It’s cathartic to tell on yourself every now and then, and today I’m in a state of catharsis. As the most self-disciplined reptile living in this corner of the Milky Way Galaxy, you would think that I’ve never missed a day of exercise. If so, you’d be wrong. Alas, much as it pains me to admit it, I’m human. I, too, get caught up in the “not enough time” trap.
I believe that one of the things that causes people to slip into this trap is a lack of moderation. When I was in my late thirties, I did heavy weightlifting, played racquetball, and jogged five to seven days a week. I gave new meaning to the term exercise addict.
I did my jogging on the track at a nearby high school and meticulously timed each and every lap. Over the years, I watched one “regular” after another disappear from the jogging scene and felt quite smug knowing that I would be jogging vigorously well into my nineties.
Time, however, proved me wrong. As exercise became an increasingly out-of-control time hog and physical dread, I ultimately quit. I attempted several comebacks over the years, but the pain and time investment was simply no longer worth the benefits.
I finally came to the conclusion that all zealous joggers and workout fanatics have two things in common.
- They all are certain they will never quit, and …
- Sooner or later, they all end up quitting.
During my last exercise void a few years ago, I believe that, subconsciously, I felt secure in the knowledge that I adhered to my healthy eating habits. For nearly twenty years now, I’ve had an apple and banana for breakfast every day, adding grapes, oranges, kiwi, and other fruits when in season. Throughout the rest of the morning, I drink at least three glasses of water.
For lunch I normally eat healthy foods like broccoli and sliced tomatoes covered with olive oil or spinach leaves, tomatoes, and mushrooms, also topped off with olive oil. Occasionally, I might have a turkey sandwich, but I always try to avoid as much saturated fat and cholesterol as possible.
I believe that my overconfidence born of good eating habits was the same mistake made by Jim Fixx, only in reverse. Fixx was the legendary runner who wrote the blockbuster bestselling book The Complete Book of Running when jogging was the all the rage back in the late seventies.
He was the foremost evangelist for the health benefits of running. At age thirty-five, he quit smoking, started to jog, and took off fifty pounds. Fixx was the ultimate true believer and a role model for millions of runners worldwide.
Ironically, notwithstanding his fanaticism for jogging, he died of a heart attack in 1984 — at age fifty-two — while jogging! What Jim Fixx didn’t say in his book, and apparently didn’t give much thought to, was that his cholesterol level was above 250.
His autopsy uncovered the startling fact that he had blockages of 50 percent, 85 percent, and 95 percent in his three main arteries. It’s a grim reminder of just how easy it is to fool oneself.
And fool myself I did, though in a different way than Fixx. After years of following an exercise regimen custom designed to transform me into a reptilian Rocky, I slowly began to make exceptions. One exception led to another, but I was comforted by the fact that I felt great and never failed to receive a clean bill of health from my doctor after a physical exam.
Thus, it was quite easy for me to delude myself into believing that I simply didn’t have time to exercise. I always had plans to reinstitute my exercise program after I finished one project or another that I was working on. But after the completion of each of those projects, I would turn right around and become totally absorbed in the next one.
I finally realized that I had to declare war on that part of my brain that produced creative excuses for not exercising — and that it must be a lifetime war. Once you start making exceptions, the tendency is for those exceptions to continually increase in number.
The rule is simple: You don’t find the time to exercise; you make the time. Metaphorically speaking, you pay yourself first by making exercise an integral part of your daily routine. You don’t just “fit it in” when it’s convenient to do so.
It’s back to tradeoffs again. In exchange for feeling better, having fewer medical problems, and living longer, the tradeoff is that you have to sacrifice a certain amount of work time and recreational indulgences.
I know, I know … the sedentary gang likes to argue that even if you exercise religiously, you could still catch a bad break and die young. And they’re right. But I’m an odds player, and I like the odds of erring on the side of more exercise rather than less.
So, how do you stack the odds in your favor when it comes to sticking with your exercise program for life? I’m convinced that the key is something I mentioned at the outset of this article: moderation. Fanaticism leads to quitting, while moderation gives you the best chance of exercising throughout life.
In real terms, this translates into medium-to-brisk thirty-minute walks three to four times a week and light (make that very light) weightlifting sessions, twenty-to-thirty minutes in length, two to three times a week.
If you’re under forty, you’re probably not ready to adopt my advice on exercise right now. But put this article in a place where you will be able to lay your hands on it when the day arrives that you start feeling like all the time and pain involved in exercising is no longer worth the benefits, because that’s when you’ll be ready to embrace the efficacy of moderation.