Comeback of a Reptilian Rocky

Posted on January 2, 2014 by Robert Ringer


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.

  1. They all are certain they will never quit, and …
  2. 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.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

17 responses to “Comeback of a Reptilian Rocky”

  1. Gayle Carson says:

    Robert, I must confess that in 6 weeks I will be 76 and I am still exercising between 1 to 2 hours every day, 7 days a week. I have had to adjust certain routines (no more kick boxing or step aerobics, but I do strength training, body pump, aerobics etc. I go to the fitness convention every year to keep up on the latest techniques, and have more energy than people half my age. I do intend to keep up with it into my 90's.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      If you have time to do it, I say great. But you are the exception. Most people quit. That said, when you hit 100 you might want to think about cutting back to five days a week.

  2. imgettingdizzy says:

    Wonderful quote, worth repeating (over and over again): "You don’t find the time to exercise; you make the time."

  3. laleydelexito says:

    Happy 2014 Mister Rober Ringer!

    I wish you the best

    I started practicing Yoga 2 times per week in 2013, and it's great (without taking into account all the cute and slim girls of the class) LOL

    Great post

  4. Sanna says:

    Been exercising for 26+ years–first thing every morning or it doesn't get done. I've done everything from aerobics to heavy weightlifting to step aerobics to intervals and yoga have finally settled–most days–to Pilates. Stopped doing squats when they made me cry. Pilates just makes me feel better. I exercise 5-6 mornings a week and give myself Sundays off. I'm a 61 year old woman with no health issues, I'm very flexible and my husband says I look good. When I don't exercise for an extended amount of time I slip into depression.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      Same answer as I gave to Gayle – but you're still a youngster.

    • Helen says:

      I think that's the key: first thing or it doesn't get done!! True! If you don't get to it to do it you just don't do it!!
      Happy New Year Sanna!

  5. Greg says:

    Thank you for a truly timely piece. As I start another new year nearly 100 pounds overweight, I look back and wonder how I got here. After all, 20-odd years ago I was a competitive bodybuilder (amateur ranks), ran 3 – 5 miles several days per week and had a bodyfat measuring somewhere around 7%. Fast forward two decads and innumerable exceptions and I'm where I find myself today. Ahh…that was, indeed, cathartic. Thanks Mr. Ringer, you've made it easier to realize I'm no better or worse than anyone…I'm just human too. Here's to our continued health improvements in 2014.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      Take it from someone who knows – change your eating habits. It's amazing how I can fill myself up with a handful of super-healthy pecans for lunch. Also, tons of steamed vegetables for dinner. Apple, banana, and other fruits for breakfast. I love to eat, but I love life better.

      You can do it, Greg.

  6. @hypnocures says:

    Hi Robert, great post (as ever).
    I must admit, Iv'e never been into fitness or any kind of sport or lesuire, it just doesn't appeal to me as much as it does to everyone else.
    It's somewhat scary being mid 40's this month so, I shall keep this post at hand.
    Many thanks Robert, to our health, John

  7. Steve D'Urso says:

    I can relate to what you said as I started running at the age of 12 and still run now at 65. I started weightlifting at 13 and continue weightlifting today. Currently running 4 to 6 miles 5 days a week & lift weights before & after each run. Those 2 activities are a major part of my normal routine. I also swim daily during the March to December time frame. I occasionally do 30 plus mile bike rides. Once in awhile I manage to take the kayak out for a spin. There was a time when I ran 15 marathons, 2 a year along with 25, 5 mile to 10K races, 5 half marathons, 10 to 12 ten mile races yearly. I never felt that I was possessed by running (although other people thought I was) & weightlifting. What I felt was GOOD because I also ate healthy. I gave up road races in 2002 and stopped wearing a watch. It took a long time to stop feeling guilty if I took a couple of days off. I read Jim Fixx's 2 books when they were published & have one signed by Bill Rodges. Jim dedicated a chapter in his book to Boston Billy. I was a big fan of both. Jim gave me great incentive to eat right & exercise. I cried when I heard he died while running. It certainly wasn't the running. It was his previous life style that finally caught up to him. Perhaps another year or two of running might have been sufficient to reverse the damage caused by eating badly. Your message about moderation is spot on. Thanks for writing.
    Steve D

  8. Doug Champigny says:

    Great post, as always, RJ! I too stayed in great shape til age 50, including blading 50 – 75 miles every Saturday. Then our biz took off and I spent too much time at the computer, traveling to speaking engagements, etc, and within 3 years I had diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Now, 9 years later, I'm back in shape, stronger than ever before, have my personal trainer certification and run a big online fitness site for people like us that have been flirting with fitness our entire lives without ever truly making it a part of our core lifestyle. You're right, it's in the choices we make – I often use you, Donald Trump and Richard Branson when pointing out that we all have the same 168 hours a week, yet so few people achieve what you three have and do. Moderation is VERY important – witness a recent study of long-time marathon runners that found they're doing major damage to their hearts. But equally important is to find the type of exercise that you love – be it running, weight lifting, yoga, zumba, boxing, Muay Thai or what have you. Any of these or dozens of other activities help to keep you fit and finding one you truly enjoy makes it much easier to stay motivated. Similarly to business success, most people need an accountability partner – be it a coach, personal trainer, class leader or personal mentor.

  9. Linda C Ridenour says:

    Hi Robert,
    Moderation and finding the things you enjoy doing are the key for me.

    I was much more physically competitive before I hit 30. After 30 I learned to adapt to my environment in order to allow greater chance of getting exercise in the natural course of my day.

    I grew up during a time when there were no personal computers, video games or other sedentary distractions…and my parents limited watching television to a couple of hours a week, so my siblings and I spent a lot of time outdoors.

    We organized neighborhood games, took part in community sports and sampled a variety of activities that required physical exertion.

    The blessing for me was that I found several things I enjoyed doing routinely that didn't require specialized equipment or long hours, walking for instance, yoga type stretching and dancing.

    As an adult, even though I live a more sedentary life I still enjoy being outdoors. I developed the habit of parking as far away from the front door as possible when I run errands, taking an extra lap around the big box store pushing my cart before I check out and taking the stairs when they are available.

    I've also either worked or lived in a building where I had to climb stairs to get to my destination. It's amazing how much easier it is to keep the weight off and stay in shape just making use of these small opportunities.

    I was also blessed with a love of vegetables and proximity to healthy locally grown foods. I love bread and pasta, so I eat them in moderation. I don't like feeling deprived, so I don't eliminate them all together.

    Once I hit 50 I started taking a variety of natural supplements recommended by my doctor to help prevent onset of medical problems commonly associated with age in our society.

    Now that I’m on the cusp of 60, I’m glad to say I've never been more than 20 pounds overweight and have not suffered from any of the usual problems middle age presents.

    I don’t take as many physical risks as I once did…don’t race go-carts, repel or climb mountains anymore, but stay reasonably active to enjoy other physical pursuits.

    As always, Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  10. Carl Pruitt says:

    Some of us are lucky enough that we exercise just because we enjoy it and not only for the health benefits.

  11. bullwink says:

    Howdy , RR, well when I was30 you saved my life, allowing me to gain perspective on life, and using intellect rather than emotion as a basis for Action, I tired of the bar scene, alcohol just seemed unhealthy,few of my friends imbibe, and I haven't had a drink in 5 years or so
    At 40 I was invited to a Jiu Jitsu gym , I went and loved it ! eventually I discovered Tai Chi and did "push hands" lotta fun, then Dan Inosanto became an influence, as bringing Philipino martial arts to poularity as he was a friend of Bruce Lee he was very popular, and I practiced stick routines to learn to coordinate my movements, 2 years ago I met a young fella from China who had a set of triple nunchucks (3 section staff) and tho he offered repeatedly that I use them I declined, now I have 3 sets of them (illegal in Mass) several staffs and a general arsenal of Kung fu weapons…
    I go under a 250 yr old Oak in the park and fool around trying to learn different routines, the problem w/ exercise is it becomes boring, so sport is easier as it's more fun, I also work out w/ my friend Ralph at 71 few can keep up w/ him, we try to play as children w/ an emphasis on climbing
    I met very few physically healthy people who were unhappy, tho most of the unhappy ones never exercise, in Obama-merica the kids are alll fat & sick, the adults fatter and sicker
    We are animals and must move or slowly perish, the old Boy Scouts "A healthy mind aqnd Body"
    then there is the Tao, but hey why is it 2% are the only ones who get it ? thanks Robert for helping preserve my sanity

  12. Logan says:

    I am a fitness advocate, now age 77 ( I agree with your take on exercise moderation wholeheartedly. Your current personal prescription for a moderate exercise format is nearly identical to my own at my stage in life. Thanks for a great column, which I have linked on my Facebook page. Kind regards,