February 22, 2010

Health & Sports

8 Reasons You Need to Rediscover Your Passion for Exercise

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness.

I need you to think way back and remember the awesomeness that was grade school dodgeball – running around sweating like a pig for an hour every day and loving every minute of it. It was survival of the fittest and the fastest; all kinds of life lessons could be learned in an afternoon of dodging and hurling that red ball. Fast forward 20 years: You’re sitting behind a desk selling data-processing software and suddenly an hour of exercise a day seems a ridiculous thought.

It’s about time you go back to being a kid.

Rediscovering a passion for exercise goes far beyond just elevating your heart rate and shedding a few unwanted pounds. If you really want to be the best husband to your wife, best father to your sons and daughters, and ultimately the best man you can be, it’s time to make your physical well-being one of your top priorities.

Let me tell you why.

Momentum

Are you aware that Teddy Roosevelt, one of the greatest men to have lived, was quite the sickly, asthmatic child growing up? As explained in “Lessons in Manliness from Theodore Roosevelt,” his father was aware of Teddy’s conditions but was determined to not let his son languish in these frailties. He pulled his boy aside and told him, “Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.”

His father’s advice became a blueprint for Teddy’s life – he went on to live every day with conviction and vigor, constantly pushing his body and mind to the limit. As he pushed his body further, he felt more comfortable pushing his mind further as well. Think about it, after fighting lions and climbing mountains, you think running for President scared him?

If you are interested in improving your life and career, never underestimate the power of momentum. By pushing your body to its limits on a daily basis, your body and mind can learn how to handle increasingly stressful situations, making you more comfortable venturing outside your comfort zone. People who refuse to step outside this “safe place” may wallow in mediocrity; it’s those who constantly challenge themselves and take risks who are likely to go on to do great things.

Safety

Two men were walking in a forest, when they suddenly saw a savage, hungry-looking bear. One of the men quickly put on a pair of running shoes. The other guy exclaimed, “You idiot! You can’t run faster than a bear.” To which the first guy replied, “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, I only have to run faster than you!”

In today’s society, almost all confrontations are settled with mediation, compromise and lawyers instead of duels, arm wrestling matches and good old-fashioned brawls. Survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the wealthiest, smoothest or smartest. That being said, you still never know when you’re going to run into a freaking bear in the woods or a burglar in your house.

This necessity for safety goes beyond just bears, burglars, and bar fights, too. Wouldn’t you sleep better knowing you could carry both your children out of your house should it catch on fire? If you fall out of a canoe, wouldn’t you panic less if you knew you were a strong swimmer? Walking through a tough part of town, wouldn’t you worry less about getting mugged if you knew you had the strength to defend yourself?

Every man should be able to save his own life and protect his children and spouse. By keeping yourself at a high level of physical fitness, your chances of both avoiding a dangerous situation and surviving one are much higher.

Wealth

When people think of the cost of getting into shape, they usually factor in a gym membership, fitness equipment, clothing and maybe the time spent not watching Jersey Shore on MTV. More often than not, this dollar amount is way higher than what they’re willing to pay (zero), so they remain couch potatoes. I mean, who would spend money to go through an uncomfortable gym workout when they can spend absolutely nada and live however the hell they want?

Fail.

It’s time to think back to your college econ class. Yeah, the one you skipped on Tuesdays and Thursdays because you were too hung over from Dollar Draft Night. That class.

Do you know how much a coronary artery bypass costs? $99,743. What’s the current cost of your diabetes medication for the year? How many days of work did you miss last year from sickness or because you had to go to the doctor? Sure, you can’t say with 100% certainty that your chub will lead to surgery or meds. Just like you might be able to smoke your whole life and not get cancer. But only fools would place their money on those kind of odds.

When determining the cost of being healthy versus the cost of being unhealthy, you should start calculating the future projected tab of your couch potato life. When factoring in these eventual medical bills, missed days of work, and expensive medications (not to mention the emotional and social costs), the $50 gym membership becomes a huge bargain.

An apple a day may not keep the doctor away, but a good diet and 30 minutes of intense, fun exercise just might. Even if you don’t feel like going to a gym, strap on some shoes (or go barefoot if you’re feeling extra manly) and go for a run, do some push-ups every other day, and keep yourself off the operating table. It’s not nearly as fun a place as it seems when you’re playing Operation!

Confidence

Earlier I discussed how Teddy Roosevelt pushed his body on a daily basis so he could tackle increasingly stressful situations. In my opinion, when it comes to complex and stressful challenges, there’s nothing more terrifying than trying to navigate the incredibly complex world of love and attraction.

I had a conversation with a good friend recently who was describing what his life was like before he lost 100 pounds. Other than the usual disadvantages of being overweight, he told me something I’ll never forget: “When you’re overweight, you’re invisible to almost everybody. Nobody will look at you, nobody will talk to you. It’s awful.”

If you’re single, I’m guessing at some point in your life you hope to find “that special someone” and eventually settle down. This is exceptionally difficult if that special someone won’t even look in your direction.

Remember that thing called momentum I talked about earlier? As you begin to exercise, you start to feel better about yourself. The more people notice you, the more you want to exercise and the better you feel. If you’re overweight, you’ll understand the “confidence” thing once you start hearing, “Hey did you lose weight? You look great!”

Now, if you’re already in a healthy and loving relationship, don’t think you’re off the hook. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean your spouse actually enjoys your growing beer belly! Make it known that you respect your relationship by staying in the best shape of your life. You’ll feel better, your neighbors’ wives will be jealous, and your wife won’t be able to keep her hands off you. Everybody wins…except for your kids, who will start to wonder why they have to spend every night at Grandma’s house down the street.

Success

Remember when your mom told you growing up, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts?” Unfortunately, she was just lying to make you feel better. Good-looking people are more successful in life than ugly people. It’s science. Whether you have a job, are looking for a new job, or just got fired from your old job, being in shape can have a tremendous impact on your success in the work force.

Let’s compare two candidates for a potential job. Candidates A and B both graduated from Harvard, are wearing identical suits and are considered an excellent choice for the position. Candidate A is 250 pounds overweight, breathes heavily, and slouches his shoulders, while Candidate B is in great shape and carries himself with a tremendous level of confidence.

Candidate B will get the job 100 times out of 100, unless he forgets to wear deodorant or tries to hit on the employer’s secretary.

Studies by economics professor Dr. Daniel Hamermesh have shown that attractive teachers get better evaluations from their students, and attractive people get better jobs and earn more money than their less attractive peers. They even get more attention from their doctors. This is based on the “Halo Effect” in which people assume that one good quality (attractiveness) means the person has other good qualities as well. And even though women often complain about being judged on their looks, the effect is actually more pronounced with men; ugly women earn 5% less than attractive women while ugly men earn 10% less than attractive men. And while a woman’s looks only effect her salary, a man’s attractiveness gets him more job offers and better raises as well.

While there’s not a ton you can do short of plastic surgery to change your ugly mug, your body is one thing you can control and  can add greatly to your attractiveness. A potential employer who sees that you’re disciplined with your body will subconsciously think you’ll be disciplined at your job too.

For those of you who already have steady jobs (which is no longer a given with this economy), exercise can be incredibly beneficial for an entirely different reason: You will have more energy, more focus, require less sleep, and spend fewer days out sick. Less downtime and less laziness leads to increased productivity. More productivity equals more money for the company, more commission for you and eventually a more lucrative position at your company. Jackpot.

Intelligence

Plato once wrote: “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

Although hundreds of technological advancements (automobiles, supermarkets, the Internet and pizza delivery) have changed our lives, our genetics haven’t changed (much) since the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Simply put, we function best when we’re doing what we’re designed for: using our brains and our bodies in unison. Plato knew it, and now we finally have proof.

Recent studies have shown that aerobic exercise increases brain cell capacity in certain areas by as much as 30 percent following exercise. Naperville Central High School in Illinois required all students to participate in mandatory gym class every single morning for a test program. Not surprisingly, this particular school absolutely destroyed every other school in the area when it came to standardized testing.

Why does this work? When you exercise, your brain cells wake up and become more receptive to outside stimuli. These cells have tiny receptors that activate in greater concentration and with greater efficiency after exercise, which means you are far more likely to retain information learned after exercise than without exercise. For more information on how positively the brain is affected by exercise, check out the book Spark by Dr. John Ratey.

Mental Health

One of the most important aspects of being a great man is to be sound both of body and mind. A great man can protect his family and friends, but also handle stressful situations with the grace of a well-mannered gentleman. If you’re a man who deals with depression, anxiety or highly stressful situations, exercise might just be the medicine you need.

Studies have shown that exercise can mitigate both depression and anxiety. “It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” say Michael Hopkins, who has been studying this phenomena at Dartmouth. These battle-tested brain cells don’t succumb to stress and make for a calmer brain.

And other studies have shown that exercise is as effective as anti-depressants in lifting clinical depression (of course, recent studies have also concluded that even placebos are as effective as anti-depressants, too.) Exercise is also more effective than anti-depressants in preventing relapses into depression. There’s a reason people who run marathons always talk about a “runner’s high” – running and other intense exercise releases endorphins into your brain, which is basically like natural morphine. Very nice.

As detailed in the previously mentioned Spark, exercise has also been proven to improve your chances of avoiding horribly debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and other disorders characterized by dementia. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion being depressed or stressed sucks. If given the option of pumping my body full of pills and throwing off my body’s natural balance, or just running a few miles every day (which will give me all sorts of other benefits), I’m going with the running.

Longevity

Last but not least, we come to the mother (father?) of all reasons why exercising is so crucial to your manliness: life.

Despite all our technical advancements and medical breakthroughs in the past century, 67 percent of United States citizens are overweight and half of those people are considered obese. Unfortunately, it seems like things are only getting worse.

It’s tough being the best man and best father you can be when you’re under six feet of dirt.

It’s time to start thinking of exercise as a 401k for your body. By putting in a little bit of effort now, you can protect yourself against going physically (and mentally) bankrupt when you get old. If you’re already an older man, it’s never too late to get started and turn your life around. Make small daily investments into your health, and you’ll be a wealthy man in more ways than one for years to come.

Who’s With Me?

If you couldn’t tell, I think exercise, success and manliness are all dependent upon one another. As you make exercise and healthy living a bigger part of your daily regimen, you’ll find that so many other aspects of your life will suddenly start to improve as well. Find something that keeps you moving and makes you happy, and find a way to do it every day. Your heart, body, and mind will thank you.

Now who wants to play some dodge ball?

-Steve

When he’s not trying to be a better man, Steve spends his time running a fitness website for the average Joe over at NerdFitness.com. You can sign up for the Nerd Fitness RSS feed or receive blog updates via email.


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