By Tim E. Renzelmann (March 31, 2022)
The benefits of exercise and physical activity are so well-known, well-documented and well-understood that I do not even need to mention them. And yet, less than 25% of Americans are meeting minimum daily recommendations of physical activity (and the on-going pandemic has made it worse).
Maya Angelou advised, ““Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” But few seem to follow that counsel, at least when it comes to physical activity in our daily lives. We know that exercise, when done within our limitations and within reason, is good for us and offers countless rewards and benefits. But, according to the statistics, most of us are ignoring the evidence. I cannot help but wonder, “Why?”
Fear can be a great motivator! Standing on the railroad tracks and seeing a diesel locomotive speeding towards me will certainly motivate me to quickly move off the tracks. But the less-immediate negative outcomes of inactivity (i.e., weakening of the heart and lungs, degeneration, weakening of muscles, loss of mobility, increased risk for many illnesses and disease, decreased quality of life), appear to be far less motivating.
Rewards can be a great motivator. Rewards programs, which offer points to the recipient (points that can often be redeemed for merchandise, discounts or cash) each time he engages in a certain behavior, have become a popular marketing strategy for many businesses including retail stores, credit cards, and even insurance companies.
ST&BF’s Active Survivors of Sheboygan is a kind of “Rewards Program.” We may not always offer material rewards (although sometimes we do😊), but the points one earns are immediately redeemable for the many health benefits of body and mind that come from participation! 😊 And yet, I think there are more meaningful reasons and effective motivational methods to consider.
One is a sense of duty. Yes, living a healthy/active lifestyle is a personal choice. But, at least for me, it is far more than that. I very much consider it to be an ethical responsibility and even a moral obligation.
In a 2020 study titled, “Health-Care Spending Attributable to Modifiable Risk Factors in the USA”, researchers examined the relationship between lifestyle, disease burden and healthcare costs and determined that $730 billion in US healthcare spending can be linked to modifiable health risks including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, poor diet, and smoking. The study estimates that more than a quarter of all health care spending in the US annually is due to conditions tied to lifestyle choices – and that these conditions are, to some degree, preventable.
In a related editorial by Sandro Galea and Nason Minni of the Boston University School of Public Health, the authors point out that this study underlines the problem posed by the ongoing lack of emphasis on preventative health measures by stating:
“While this analysis is helpful to draw attention to the costs that the USA spends on diseases that it could avoid, it is also drawing attention to a status quo that we have long come to accept: a high proportion of illness and death is preventable, and a lot of money is spent on treatment because we do not do a particularly good job of preventing disease.”
Imagine a world with less heart disease, less type 2 diabetes, less obesity, less cancer! Imagine the reduced deaths! Imagine the enhanced lives! Imagine the incredible savings... that could be used to improve human life in so many other ways!
I don’t know about you... but I want to be a part of that!
And yet, there is another even stronger motivating factor for me to continue to find ways to move my body. Of all of the countless reasons to continue to move my body, the greatest of these is love!
I recently found myself re-watching the 2018 PBS 3-part special “The Amazing Human Body.” Through real-life stories and cutting-edge graphics, this program reveals the surprisingly beautiful biological process that keeps us alive. “Everybody has a body,” remarks the narrator, Michael J. Haynes. “And every body is amazing. Starting from a single cell, you built a body that can grow, learn, and survive incredible things.”
Programs like this further deepen my appreciation and love for the human body which is the most sophisticated organism on earth; a scientific marvel, even though much of it remains a mystery.
I am especially astonished when I see what the human body can do, often demonstrated by the performances of great athletes who continue to push the human body to greater limits. I started running competitively in 1976 when the world-record in the marathon was 2:09:12 (Ian Hill of Great Britain). Today, that record sits at 2:01:39 (Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya). I am amazed to think I may see the 2-hour marathon threshold broken in my lifetime! As amazing as the human body is, these athletes show us that we still have untapped potential!
Many of us take our amazing human body for granted. We spend great amounts of time, energy and money caring for our homes, our yards, our vehicles, even our pets. But I fear we often neglect the single most valuable possession of all – our own bodies! Few of us admittedly love our bodies in a way that I suggest it deserves to be loved.
“Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” - Buddha
When I talk about loving your body, I am not talking about loving what your body looks like. I have never been particularly thrilled about my looks. I’m scrawny. I’ve got a big nose. I’m bald (partly by choice). But I still love my body for what it has allowed me to experience in this life. And even though I can no longer do what I once could, I still love my body for the potential it holds.
As I approach my seventh decade of life, my body has endured the wear and tear of more than 21,000 days on this earth along with the many hazards and vicissitudes of life that include several cancer recurrences and an allogeneic bone marrow transplant. Although I continue to be inspired by the great young athletes of the day... I find myself receiving just as much inspiration from the accomplishments of older everyday athletes.
Consider 90-year-old Canadian female rower Alida Kingsworth who broke the existing 2K indoor rowing record by over two-minutes during the 2022 World Rowing Virtual Indoor Championships, finishing in 10:29.3. Kingsworth was quoted as saying, “I want to leave a legacy for my grandchildren and great grandchildren because I’m not a grandmother that bakes cookies for kids or does crafts. I just do what comes naturally.” She reminds me that there is so much more that all of us are “naturally” capable of doing! (Watch Alida’s row starting at 6:17:00 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpvZ847LOMs)
All of this contributes to a love for the human body, a love for my own body, and a love for life. As a result, I intend to continue to enjoy moving my body... and enjoying its many benefits!