Beyond The Physical Benefits of Health and Fitness Programs

Long Term Benefits of Physical Activity

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.

I. Vitality

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.

List of Benefits of Exercise

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.

III. Challenge

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.

Get Comfortable With The Uncomfortable

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.

IV. Useful

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato

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35 comments:

  1. My dad was a dairy farmer who epitomized old man strength and determination. He did the work and never complained. Barn burnt down? Rebuild it. Cow kicked him? Kick the cow back. It made me who I am and gives me the drive to get up at 530am every day.

    So, I do it out of respect for what he taught me and to lead by example for my son. I want him to think ‘wow, Dad can do anything…’ and then know if I can, so can he.

    And yeah, I just got diagnosed with colitis 6 months ago so looking good makes me FEEL good more than ever. I have something to prove to my body now…

  2. I like to be in shape so that I can do activities that I enjoy and try new things. If i want for a century ride on my bike, I can. If I want to go rock climbing with my friends or play any sports or go hiking, I can. About 5-6 years ago I was in school and not really worried about being in shape. My brother asked me to go on a surfing trip with him. I was so out of shape I couldn’t even keep up with everyone. At that moment I realized I want to be in shape so I can do the things I enjoy. I don’t want to sit on the side lines because I am out of shape. Being strong flexible and having decent cardio allows me to do the things I love.

  3. One of The best entries ever! I have been into the same philosophy as you Ross. Living is just choose a role to play, and interpretate it with pasion. We both like sport,sacrife effort and feel The iron….The most important thing is not The goals you achieve with time…it is The person you become while you are making long term effort.
    It is valid for sport and life!

    Greetings from Spain.
    Alex

  4. Way to go Ross! I especially like the reference to Henry Rollins. I didn’t know you had Iron and the Soul posted on your site but it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a no nonsense guy like yourself especially when it comes to fitness. One of his quotes I really like is – “I think about the meaning of pain. Pain is personal. It really belongs to the one feeling it. Probably the only thing that is your own. I like mine.”

  5. Another superb post, Ross!

    And, I like what Alex said in the comments section: “The most important thing is not The goals you achieve with time…it is The person you become while you are making long term effort.”

  6. Exercise literally saved my life. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t make it through my workouts. When I got diagnosed the doctor said the only reason I was alive I was because of my conditioning. My lungs had enough oxygen to sustain life. I have worked out consistently for 30 years and I love weight training ,calisthenics,and martial arts.It makes me feel alive and as you said very vibrant. Make no mistake about it exercise can make anyone feel better, look better, and think clearer. I’m not sure why some people choose to exercise and others do not.I only know that I love it!

  7. Since the world began. Ecclesiastes 9, possibly dated 250 BC!:
    “7 Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. 9 Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” 🙂 what a synthesis!: white clothes and oil were for parties, and some translation read: whatever your hand finds to do with your strength do it as…live your life like it is a party, love and work hard, enjoy it and put your strength in use because that’s life!

  8. This expresses perfectly why I don’t believe in the use of enhancement-drugs. For me, training is about the journey, not the destination. The destination – if we ever reach it – is fleeting, but the journey getting there feeds the soul.

  9. I agree with what is written here and will add one more: self-defense. I never want to be too weak, slow, stiff, or not confident enough to protect myself or my family.

  10. Being fit definitely translated into gains in other areas. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your brain is to take a rest from mental work and push yourself physically so you can come back refreshed and clear. Getting regular exercise reduces stress which has tremendous personal benefits. When I’m done with work and take the time to work out, it creates a nice clear break between work and my personal life. And when it comes to work, I think of it a lot like working out. I commit to finishing the job the way I commit to doing 10k or doing so many sets. It’s that power to push yourself that’s valuable.

    And yeah, it goes without saying that when your body is strong everyday tasks can be easier. I’ve seen people who let their bodies decline get injured moving a table, picking up a box, even picking up a single hardcover book. This also seems to stand out more when you get older. People I know who were active have fewer chronic aches and pains. They can keep up with their grandkids, have fewer injuries, and enjoy a better quality of life.

    One thing is that setting goals and meeting them builds confidence. At one point in my life, when I was a kid, I could just bench the bar. With consistent effort I built up to benching plate and squatting 225; later on I doubled both those numbers. I remember the first time I tried to play table tennis against some serious players. and got blown away. Eventually I could compete. It’s not so much achieving the specific goal as it is the ‘can do’ attitude you build. My wife was never very athletic, but she’s started doing different activities and I can see how it’s built her confidence because what once seem impossible becomes attainable. She’s now looking at getting more education, so it’s clear that the mind and the body aren’t so disconnected.

  11. Hey Ross,

    You exercise at a high level and train others similarly. Today, I woke up feeling particularly stiff and sore from yesterday’s afternoon taekwondo workout. I would love to be able to get a massage following such a workout but i couldn’t afford to do so regularly. I wonder is there anything you always try to do or recommend doing following a workout to aid recovery?

    Some advocate cold/warm water immersion. Good meals. Stretching. Sleep.

    1. There’s not much that can be done to expedite the recovery process if too much work is performed in a given session. Light work may be useful however to get the blood flowing. Active rest often proves more useful than doing nothing.

      Furthermore, don’t overlook the significance of the other 22 hours a day (i.e. limit stress, deep sleep, proper nutrition, etc.). What happens outside of the gym is often more important than what happens while you are there.

  12. You’ve shared some good reasons, but there’s one missing. I exercise for safety. Living down south, my family just missed being hit by Katrina 10 years ago. I’m grateful that we were safe, but watching the news coverage of that storm changed my perspective. I stay strong so that I’m ready for whatever I need to be ready for. If I need to carry my wife and son to safety, I’ll be ready. The other benefits are icing on the cake

  13. One of your best articles yet.

    Some of the comments this has generated are just as good.

    Please keep the information coming Ross, truly appreciate the work you put in here.

  14. I’ve been in and out of shape over the course of my life and my quality of life is best when I’m in shape and strong. Now that I’m a senior citizen, the difference is more obvious, so I train. Why would anyone not want the best quality of life possible. Thanks for the inspiration and the quality instruction.

  15. Appreciate the article, Ross. Great as always.

    I enjoyed how you put vitality first in your list. Having more energy and being able to do the things you want are highly underrated in our society.

    So many people become a burden on their families because they’ve lost that fire inside them (you referenced it as being a “Big Kid at Heart”). Life’s supposed to be fun and fulfilling, both of which come from your mindset.

    Stay young and stay passionate. Growing up’s just not for me.

  16. I follow this “sick” of vitality for several years now and I can not explain how he manages to influence in a positive way with his messages that are essentially simple not to be understood by most people. “What is essential is invisible to the eyes of the people”! Ross thanks for your work!

  17. hi Ross,
    another excellent post and i agree with all the reasons you stated. i started conscious physical activity at 10 years old and am now 64 so i have been able to observe the positive effects upon myself and others that physical training has on aging. when we are young we often feel indestructible but if we fail to honor and preserve the health and strength we have been blessed with we sooner or later will be plagued with various preventable health issues as our body breaks down. however by adopting a multi faceted approach to health including activity, exercise, good eating habits, mind development etc. we can prevent a good many of the illness that many from middle age on take for granted. however life being what it is even the fittest of us can be blind sided by serious illness. in the past few years i have had a friend who is a long time physical culturist in his early 70s be hit with colon cancer and another long time martial artist in his early 60s needing an emergency liver transplant. both had never had any health problems until then. well they were both able to undergo treatment and remain fairly active and make complete recoveries so they are now back into full time training. without a doubt it was those years of training that enabled such a profound response. i have also observed that those who continue with whatever training they do throughout their lives are active and healthy until they pass, whereas those who stop training as they start to get older gradually start to get the health issues they had previously kept at bay. one man i know who stopped training after a lifetime in his early sixties and developed diabetes that led to an amputated leg told me if he had known at the time he would never have stopped training. for me activity is life and training is for life.
    regards, peter.

  18. Great article and encouraging comments to keep motivated. Thank you!

    There are some very inspiring words when Ayrton Senna is interviewed after winning his 3rd World Championship. They are relevant to all of us no matter what we do, and I feel are worth remembering each day:

    “There is a great desire in me for improving, getting better …. that makes me happy. Every time I feel I am slowing down my learning process … or my learning curve is getting flat …then it doesn’t make me very happy. And that applies not only as a professional racing driver but also as a Man.

    I shall have a lot more to learn as a Man than as a racing driver, and hopefully my life will still go on for a long time. ….. There is a lot to do, a lot to learn in life, and happiness will come when I feel complete as a whole”

  19. Morning Exercise: You spend the entire day getting beaten down. Why not start by at least winning one round against yourself?

  20. If this entry doesn’t light a fire under someone’s arse then I honestly don’t know what will. Damn sure gonna share this abroad.

    As for me personally, I couldn’t imagine living a sedentary lifestyle. Being a former Marine, 10 year MMA veteran and now an MMA coach, father of two energetic boys and a zombie apocalypse / doomsday prepper (I kid, kinda) the benefits of staying in shape have always been on the forefront of what drives me to train.

    Keep up the good work Ross and we thank you for your knowledge.

  21. cheers ross, very resonant article.
    turned 50 last year and have always maintained the trim shape of my 20s. my friends and family are all in woeful shape & i count my blessings.
    still do my 60-90 mins every morning – sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, but i’m always doing something.
    i still bound effortlessly up the stairs, sprint fast for the train and lift & carry heavy things without straining my back.
    and when i’m on the playground with the kids, nothing better than casually knocking out a dozen behind-the-neck pull-ups from the swings to let them know that their old man is still a bit of a bad-ass (chuckle chuckle)!
    love that plato quote – and as socrates put it similarly:
    “no man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. it is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
    my best, phil

  22. Excellent post Ross. This one in particular for me reflects my feelings on fitness. I have been at both ends of the scale in the fitness and fatness stakes. I used to be fit, mostly running, football and racket sports,then when things went wrong in my life for various reasons I drank too much, ate too much and did nothing. Unsurprisingly, although I couldn’t admit it at the time, this made things worse. I tipped the scales at over 300lbs, felt awful and looked awful. I made a decision that I had to change and given the history of heart disease in my family might not be here today if I had not. The journey over the last decade since then has not been smooth with as many downs as ups in terms of fitness goals, some of these due to injury, some just because of life and the curve balls it throws. However adopting what you call the something is better than nothing approach meant I at least kept some activity going. I have done numerous things in this time including strength training, martial arts and triathlon. I had to stop the triathlon due to a long term injury that stopped me running but have still carried on with the other stuff. I love being active and love the feeling I get from knowing I have worked hard in the gym or from just walking out in the fresh air. I feel better mentally and physically and can’t now imagine living my life any other way. I am able to cope with whatever life throws and I know from experience that this is in a big part because of the active and healthy lifestyle I have. Keep on inspiring Ross, if you change just one persons lifestyle for the better it will be worth it.

  23. At age 65 the number of years left to enjoy doing things that require strength and mobility are getting shorter, but the importance of it looms larger.

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