To me, one of the most interesting aspects of health and fitness is the fact that everyone knows what's good for them, and hardly anyone actually does it.
Why not? Clearly the benefits of health and fitness are indisputable. Working out regularly and keeping yourself physically fit will extend your lifespan, protect your body against age-related physical degeneration, preserve your balance and agility deep into old age, prevent dementia, and give you something to do while you enjoy all those extra years tacked onto your life. Eating a healthy diet, by which I mean a diet well supported by the medical literature, such as the DASH or Mediterranean diets, will prevent weight gain and everything that comes from weight gain, including diabetes, heart disease, bad-fitting clothes, premature death, and so on. I'll add that a healthy and varied diet will also expand your flavor palette, enabling you to enjoy a wider variety of foods than you would if you just stuck to chicken nuggets and fries like a four-year-old.
But so what? It's not as if anyone doesn't already know this. The problem isn't a lack of knowledge or a lack of supporting evidence. The problem is that people would just rather binge-watch Netflix series while eating chicken nuggets and fries like a four-year-old, even despite knowing they're killing themselves.
People don't need more or better knowledge to make healthier choices. Instead, they need more compelling reasons to change. Below, I've compiled a list of reasons why I think people ought to eat healthy and work out. Maybe these reasons aren't enough to convince you, but they're the best reasons that came to my own mind.
Do it for the children.
Like it or not, your children are going to grow up to be just like you. So, if you have body image problems, a bad diet, and an antipathy to exercise, so will your children. You, alright? They learned it from watching you!
Children want to do everything their parents do, at least until they discover that it's hard. If you spend your family time watching TV, then that is what your children will believe constitutes "family time." If instead you spend your time hiking, biking, or playing board games, then that's what your children will learn "family time" is. When your child becomes a teenager and doesn't want to do anything but watch TV and play on the internet, don’t ask yourself why your child became such a bum. Instead, admonish yourself for teaching your child that down time means staring at a screen.
As difficult as it is for some parents to believe, children will learn to eat anything that's put in front of them. There is nothing genetic about the fact that Indian kids like samosas and Japanese kids like gyoza and Italian kids like ravioli. Kids around the world come to prefer whatever they eat most often. If you discover that your child only ever wants to eat mac-and-cheese, ask yourself how often you serve mac-and-cheese. Stop serving it; stop ordering it at restaurants; stop allowing your child to demand mac-and-cheese. Then, sit back and watch as your child, as if by magic, learns to acquire new favorite foods.
Furthermore, if your child watches you engage in emotional eating, negative self-talk, binge-snacking, and constant grazing, then guess which habits your child will develop. If instead you choose to eat well-balanced meals at scheduled mealtimes and strictly limit snacks and treats, guess which habits your child will adopt then.
So maybe you don't have enough desire to turn over a new leaf for yourself. But unless you want your child to have all the health and fitness struggles you have, you ought to do it for them.
Being Healthy Is Glamorous.
Pretty much the easiest way to command attention in a room full of people is to be extremely healthy. That might seem surprising to some people, considering the fact that working out takes time and effort, but consider the alternatives. Most people who command this kind of attention do so by being well-respected leaders in their fields, which means they've invested countless hours and dollars in schooling, pursuing perfect grades and a flawless resume, with a good dose of luck along the way, across decades of their lives. Compared to that, going to the gym every day and eating your vegetables seems almost trivial.
Of course, many people are glamorous simply because they're attractive. There is a genetic limit to how attractive a person can be, but every factor that is within your control involves diet and exercise. If you want your clothes to fit better, diet and exercise. If you want to find fancy new clothes that will make you look attractive in public, diet and exercise. If you want to take appealing photos of yourself and post them on social media, diet and exercise. If you don't want to do any of that, and would prefer to simply marry into a glamorous family, well how do you think you'll be able to accomplish that? You either need money, power, or attractiveness. And considering the costs, diet and exercise is the single easiest and most effective way to get there.
Glamorous people, of course, are glamorous even on their days off. They look glamorous when they're wearing pajamas or lounging around in board shorts. How? By diet and exercise.
Any way you slice it, when it comes to glamor, the most effective way to achieve a modicum of glamor without having to invest decades of your life in career success or hitting the genetic lottery is to eat right and exercise.
Being Healthy Is Fun.
Time and again, when I talk to people who resist the idea of diet and exercise, their resistance generally comes down to the notion that eating right and working out isn't as fun as eating pizza and watching TV. I think this is nonsense.
For one thing, I'm not even sure whether it's neurologically true. Exercise releases endorphins, triggers and satisfies opioid receptors, produces endocannabinoids, releases dopamine and serotonin, reduces physical sensations of pain, and increases your sex drive. The combination of all of this is enough to clinically alleviate depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. How many other ways of spending 20-40 minutes of your time can accomplish all of this at the same time?
But for another thing, consider what this argument implies: It implies that eating cupcakes and spending a night out drinking is more fun than wingsuit diving, downhill mountain biking, open water swimming, mountaineering, ice climbing, skateboarding, intramural soccer, pickup basketball games, and so on.
I certainly understand that there's no accounting for specific tastes. If basketball isn't your thing, that's fine, and also beside the point. I don't know anyone who doesn't envy a wingsuit diver for flying through the air like Rocky the Squirrel. I don't know anyone who wouldn't like to breathe the air of the Himalayan Mountains at least once. I don't know anyone wouldn't like to try riding a bike through the landscapes of Moab, Utah, or going skiing with the beautiful people in Aspen, Colorado. Even if a few of these things don't interest you, there is always something.
There is always something that people desperately wish they could accomplish that involves physical fitness. It doesn't matter which specific thing it might be for you, personally, it matters only that for some people, physical fitness is the only barrier between them and their dreams.
Consider that, dreams! There is no way cupcakes are worth your dreams. There is no way that eating a Baconator-a-week is worth a dream. We all understand this, and maybe achieving a dream is a lot of hard work and involves willpower that many do not have.
But to argue that smoking cigars and being 300 pounds is more fun -- as several of my acquaintances have argued -- than eating right, exercising, and being able to skydive or hike to the top of a mountain in Jasper, Alberta is complete and utter nonsense. Doing the things that you can do when you're fit is the most fun you will ever have.
People Remember And Value Experiences Over Things.
I don't remember where I was when I ate the best pizza I've ever had. In hindsight, there are a few restaurants that might be able to claim the title, but I have no way of knowing for sure, short of retracing my 40 years of pizza-eating across countries and continents and then trying to remember it all again. The truth is, the best pizza-related experiences I've ever had had nothing to do with the actual pizza. I loved The Factory in Logan, Utah because my sister recommended it to me, and my friends and I had a lot of fun hanging out there. I loved Pizza 73 in Lethbridge, Alberta because they had funny cooks who made jokes with me when I placed phone orders. I loved Lorenzo's Pizza in Ottawa, Ontario because my wife and I used to go there when we were dating. Every great pizza has a corresponding fond memory that has nothing to do with pizza.
Which means, my love of pizza has nothing to do with pizza. You could have taken away the pizza, replaced it with oatmeal, and let the memories play out otherwise the same way, and my love for pizza would become a love of oatmeal. (Actually, I do love oatmeal!)
There is nothing you remember having eaten and loved that is not in actuality a memory about the people you were with, the peripheral experiences you had, and the time of your life in which you experienced it. This is, after all, the reason addiction specialists insist that recovering addicts get new friends. It's not merely that the old friends are bad -- often they are perfectly good people -- it's just that addicts have to learn how to have experiences without associating those experiences with the addictive substance.
And people who are convinced that Thanksgiving is wonderful because of the food are idiots. You can buy turkey and serve pumpkin pie any time you want to. Why, then, do you reserve it for a special occasion? The answer is, of course, because Thanksgiving isn't really about the food at all.
Compare that to getting in great shape, buying a daring bathing suit, and going to Cancun where you can show your body off. Again, it's not the bathing suit that you'll remember, and you'll probably not really remember what Cancun was like, either. But you'll remember being in great shape, you'll remember turning heads, and you'll remember any passionate night that came from that.
And suppose you opted instead to summit Everest or run in the Boston Marathon. You'll remember those experiences, those sets of experiences, far more than you'll ever remember The Greatest Doughnut Anyone Ever Brought To The Office.
If you want to fill your life with great memories, skip the doughnut and train for the beach. Or the marathon.
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