Updated: Feb 16, 2022
“What if I told you there is something you can do right now that would have an immediate, positive benefit for your brain, including your mood and your focus? And what if I told you that same thing could actually last a long time and protect your brain from different conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? Would you do it?”
— Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki*
In his TEDx talk called “The Exercise Happiness Paradox”, Chris Wharton** states: “If exercise was a pill, it would outperform every other know medicine for improving overall markers of health. If it was a pill, it would be the most prescribed, most valuable medicine on Earth.”
Interesting, shocking and true.
In the third publication of this blog, entitled “Stronger”, I tried to establish – and I hope it was with some success– the enormous importance and transcendence that regular physical activity has on our lives. In it, I not only shared scientific data but, in the same way, I dared to cross the threshold of antipathy by affirming that not having exercise as a priority was a mistake. I remember mentioning that “exercising should not become a priority. It already is!” And although in most cases I will never know if my words paid off or fell on deaf ears, I remain hopeful that the former has prevailed over the latter.
The transformative power of exercise
Periodically I immerse myself in long searches for information regarding the benefits of consistent physical activity, as well as the harm that its absence causes.
The more I discover and learn, the more difficult it becomes for me to understand why this activity is not among the main priorities of human beings.
In the words of neurologist Wendy Suzuki*, “Exercising could be the most transformative thing you can do for your brain today: It has immediate effects on your brain: increased levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine (responsible for regulating mood), serotonin (the very same hormone targeted by antidepressants), and endorphins (responsible for relieving pain and stress), are just some of its immediate effects.”
I was amazed to learn that long-term exercise literally changes the anatomy, physiology, and function of the brain. It improves long-term memory and produces new brain cells in the hippocampus, increasing its volume.
All this is not mere talk, or optimistic calculations, or deception to sell a product. No. They are scientific facts, proven and studied for many years by armies of devoted specialists dedicated to discovering the keys to enjoying a life not only longer, but healthier and more productive.
But why, if the effects of exercise are so wonderful, do we not decide to integrate it into our daily routine? Undoubtedly, focusing on finding a single answer would be an erroneous tactic since, like so many things in life, answers are not usually unique, nor do reasons walk alone. However, I have recently had the opportunity to hear some points of view from perspectives that were new to me.
Feelings vs looks
Going back to Chris Wharton's talk, one of the thoughts that made the most impact on me was the one in which he explained how it is that the vast majority of the time, we ask ourselves questions like:
How can I lose weight?
What is the best exercise program to lose weight?
How do I get a “six pack”?
What should I do to tone my arms?
How do I get rid of my belly fat?
How long will it take me to lose 10 pounds?
I agree with his conclusion: "None of these questions have anything to do with the way we feel, but everything to do with the way that we look.”
Now, what is the relationship between this approach to what exercise is and what it is for, and the consequence of not practicing it?
Clarifying once again that I am not a psychologist or therapist, I understand that getting involved in efforts and sacrifices for the wrong motivations does not lead to desired goals. It would seem that most of those who suddenly throw themselves into a rigorous exercise plan, accompanied by a very strict diet, find their motivation in "looking better", or showing a different appearance, but they fail in focusing on how they feel, whether they accept themselves, and what really matters to those who love and care about them. Our family and friends want to see us strong, healthy, energetic and, above all, present. A Greek god physique will not make them happier or provide them with peace of mind.
Seeing you healthy, will.
So, if your ultimate goal is a sculpted abdomen, it is likely that, even if you get it, the way you end up feeling will differ from what you expected.
It is necessary to fall in love, essentially, with how we feel, and not with how we see ourselves.
No… I have nothing against a slim physique. On the contrary. It's just that, in my life experience, the way I look is a side benefit. My exercise routine frees my mind, takes away my stress, makes me feel alive and helps me prove to myself, day by day, that I can overcome my own mediocrity, my tiredness, my laziness, my fears and barriers.
If we were able, then, to modify the approach or the reason why we decided to consistently implement an exercise routine in our lives, perhaps we could walk, with the same consistency, toward the goal we have set.
Beyond motivations and reasons, why would we allow time to break our physique without offering any resistance? What is the point of, arms crossed, allowing our progressive and constant weakening, day after day? Have you entertained the thought that tomorrow you will be less strong and agile than today? You may say that this is not the case, and that the difference would be imperceptible, but what does that change? A multitude of imperceptible things eventually becomes noticeable, and as the years go by, we get older and weaker. This assertion is a reality, as painful as it is indisputable.
Is that what you want for your life? Do you feel good about yourself knowing that your “today” version will not return? Doesn't it bother you to leave, day after day, the best of you go? Why not build a healthier body and mind, not only for you, but for those who love and need you so much?
Many times in the past I have wondered if it would be fair to those who love me, to allow myself to wither away by not taking proper care of my well-being. Have you asked yourself that? Wouldn't you like to feel stronger and more energetic, so you’d be able to run around with your children or grandchildren, without running out of breath?
Low blow? Maybe, but I won't apologize for that.
I know that for many this will sound like hyperbole and, even more, it’s very likely that this message -and me-, will be branded as negative. My question is, does it have to be like this? Is this negativity inevitable?
No, it is not.
The change, the power, the chances of turning the tide are in your hands, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The "super pill" does exist, it is real, and you don't need money to get it. You don't need anything else than putting time in on it... and willpower.
Exercise protects you
What would you do if I told you there is a pill that can immediately improve the way you feel?
Would you take it?
What would you do, if I told you that in your hands you have the keys to a better version of life, and the only thing you need to do to achieve it is to keep taking that pill?
Would you do it?
Focus on attainable goals, and small and regular victories. When we keep winning, we keep moving forward.
Success is contagious. It breeds more success.
Focus on how you want to feel, and not on how you want to look.
The possibility is real.
The responsibility is yours.
* Dr. Wendy A Suzuki is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the New York University Center for Neural Science and popular science communicator.
** Chris Wharton is one of the UK's most experienced health and well being experts with over 15 years in the industry as a Personal Trainer, Gym Owner and Author.