Earlier this week, I received an email from a young man who questioned my pursuit of physical fitness. He pondered why anyone would invest so much time into building a body that will eventually expire. In other words, why build strength if it is only temporary?
Initially, I wasn’t sure if the individual was serious or just trolling the web. Upon responding though, it was clear that he was quite serious. He was genuinely confused about physical fitness, the benefits of exercise, and life itself. With that in mind, I believe it’s worth discussing how the long term benefits of physical activity extend far beyond physical strength.
Long Term Benefits of Physical Activity
Before discussing specific benefits, it is important to understand that everything we do in life is temporary. Yet, the fact that life will someday end isn’t a reason to be miserable each day. I’d rather enjoy the moment instead of worrying about what the future will bring. Whether I’m strong tomorrow, next year, or in fifty years is irrelevant when choosing to be strong today.
Furthermore, exercise isn’t just about developing physical strength. My ability to lift a certain piece of iron or perform a particular exercise isn’t what drives me to train each day. I view exercise as something that’s more powerful than even the heaviest of loads. Perhaps if more people understood the true value of exercise, we wouldn’t live in a world that is plagued by obesity.
Unfortunately, the fitness industry has failed to convince more people to pursue healthier lives. The ever increasing obesity statistics don’t lie. Thus, while there’s more fitness material available than ever before, the abundance of information hasn’t compelled more people to exercise. The bulk of articles about physical health are in many ways preaching to the choir. They’re targeted towards those who are already in the know.
Therefore, in this entry, my goal isn’t to tell people who already train how to train better. Instead, I’ll share what drives me to exercise each day. I also encourage others to share their own reasons in the comments below. Hopefully there’s someone out there who hasn’t taken their first step who will read something that inspires them to begin their own journey.
In a world filled with fitness celebrities who snap selfies wearing next to nothing, some might be surprised that I list vitality as my primary reason to exercise. Merriam-Webster defines vitality as a lively or energetic quality. Exercise is what gives me that feeling. Who wouldn’t want to attain more vitality in their life?
I couldn’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to feel more vibrant and energized throughout the day. The vitality that I have allows me to get so much more out of life. How can you live life to the fullest if you plod through each day feeling tired and unmotivated? That’s no way to live.
I’d rather feel and act younger than my age. I’m still a big kid at heart. I wouldn’t trade the ability to go outside and play with my kids for anything. I’ll never be that parent who sits on the sidelines scrolling through his phone while his kids are off running around having fun. It’s much more enjoyable to participate, and the smiles that I see from my children are the greatest rewards of all. Their joy is all the motivation I’ll ever need to stay physically fit and active.
II. Mental Clarity
Another benefit of exercise that doesn’t receive adequate attention is what I call mental clarity. In short, my mind operates at a much higher level as a direct result of exercise. Not only is my mind sharper throughout the day, but many of my best thoughts come in between sets of heavy lifting. The mind-body connection is undeniable.
In the words of Henry Rollins:
“I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate.”
I could not agree more. I always think, feel, and act better after an intense workout. It does not matter how I feel before, I always feel better after I’ve challenged myself physically. I’m never more than one workout away from a better mood.
There’s a difference between living and existing. I view life as something that is precious and temporary, thus should be cherished. I’m not interested in only existing. In my eyes, an important part of life involves challenging myself to see what I’m made of. I decided a long time ago that I’ll never be the person who sits on his death bed wishing he had done more.
I believe we should all be physically and intellectually challenged on a daily basis. There is no reason why we can’t make time to regularly enhance the body and mind. Forget about sitting back and existing within a self-defined comfort zone. The real treasures of life are found outside of it.
Furthermore, regularly challenging the body and mind will make the rest of life’s obstacles much easier to handle. When you become accustomed to regularly testing your physical and mental limits, life doesn’t seem so daunting. No matter how rough it gets, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you’ve become experienced at facing challenges head on.
Functional is an overused word, so I’ll stay away from it. It sure as hell is useful to be strong however. It’s nice to be able to pick something up without breaking your back. I often wonder how anyone who has a choice would opt to be frail and weak.
In the past few weeks alone, I’ve loaded a few tons of wood pellets, helped a friend split and carry several large logs, dug up my well to fix a leak, pushed someone’s car out of the mud, climbed up on the roof to fix the chimney, and carried a new desk upstairs to my daughter’s bedroom. That’s just a small list of recent tasks that I’ve remembered in less than a minute. I’m sure there were others, but you get the point. I couldn’t imagine being unable to handle these basic duties.
Strength is a choice that I’m glad I’ve made. If you aren’t strong, you are weak. Simple tasks become physical barriers. There is no logical explanation for choosing weakness over strength. Don’t waste your time trying to drum up an argument. Instead, wrap your hands around a bar and start tapping into the potential of the gift you’ve been given that you call your body.
V. Feel Good, Look Good
Last but not least, we can all stop pretending that exercise doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with exercising to look and feel good. As useful as it is to carry all of your groceries in one trip, it’s also nice to build a body that you are proud of. You don’t need to exercise just for function. You can also exercise to look and feel better about yourself. Confidence and self-esteem are both incredibly important. Don’t let anyone fool you to believe otherwise.
If getting jacked makes you feel better about yourself, go get swole and proudly show off your guns. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of the work you’ve performed, as well as the results. The haters of the world who call you vain are usually just those who are jealous. They aren’t worth your time and certainly shouldn’t be considered when making future decisions. Build the body that you want to develop and be proud of yourself for your efforts.
Hopefully this article helps to clarify some of the long term benefits of physical activity. There are certainly other reasons to exercise, but these five land at the top of my list. I honestly could not imagine living without challenging my body and mind. I’ll never understand how anyone can go through life without the desire to better themselves.
It’s a simple decision to make that you will never regret. Even failed attempts will provide valuable life lessons. It’s actually one of the few decisions in life that all but guarantees a win. Actively trying to better yourself is always time well spent.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato