Once upon a time we had no choice: Getting from Point A to Point B required physical exertion, as did simple things like finding food and washing clothes. Darkness meant the workday was over and it was time to rest, recover and relax. The healthy cycle of exercise and rejuvenation was built into our existence by circumstance. No reason to hop on boxes or calculate target heart rates. Spandex had not yet even been invented.
Human ingenuity and technology soon focused on developing the means to do work faster and more efficiently, ostensibly so that we could get the job done more quickly and have some leisure time. We humans would thereby become happier, healthier and ahead of schedule.
Of course it hasn’t quite worked out that way. The capacity to do more work faster has fostered the fervent belief that we must do even more work, even faster. The electric light gave us the opportunity to work past nightfall instead of kicking back by the fire. Rapid communications now allow us to do business with anybody, anywhere, anytime. Cars, computers and a host of other technological developments allow us - no, force us - to do all this high-speed work sitting on our butts. High-level physical exercise doesn’t just happen anymore - today we need to seek it out and schedule it in.
There lies the rub. It’s a fast-paced society we inhabit and to keep up you’ve got to get a ton done every day. Taking time out for exercise and relaxation would mean falling behind in the race, and something tells us that would be disastrous. So on we race at breakneck speed toward. … disaster. Hypokinetic disease (illness resulting from inadequate physical exercise) haunts us relentlessly, slowly and silently shutting down arteries and subtracting, bit by bit, years off our lives. It’s a sad irony that the price for this hectic pace is that the very thing too valuable to commit to exercise, time - precious hours, days and years - is taken away. Even worse, more time - possibly years - may be spent in a pitiable existence of poor health. We either give time now to our health or, soon enough, we give it to our illness.
Acknowledging the vital importance of physical exercise is the first step toward finding the time to make it a regular part of our lives. It’s been said that if we Americans are given a big enough WHY, we’ll figure out the HOW. That simple corollary looms large when we tally the benefits of exercise: weight control, heart health, increased energy, heightened mental acuity, improved appearance, greater strength, endurance, confidence, etc., etc. Could that WHY be any bigger? On to HOW.
First of all, let’s break down and admit that no one is too totally busy to exercise. The president of the United States takes the time to jog regularly, determined to nullify the fat potential of all those Big Mac attacks. Robert Shapiro does a regular boxing workout, and who could be busier than a defense lawyer in the high-profile O.J. Simpson trial?
Prioritization is the key that allows high-rent attorneys and U.S. presidents the time to hit the road running or hop on the bike or punch the bag or pump the bar or whatever. They realize that the time demand of less than an hour a day is small cost for the huge payoff of regular exercise. They make a firm decision to take the time. The problems and pressures of the world are made to wait.
If you can’t immediately figure time for fitness into your schedule, try this: Identify everything that you absolutely must do for the coming week and write it down. Then throughout that week write down those things, plus everything else you do with your time. Odds are you will easily find a total of four to five hours a week to commit to exercise. If need be, throw something else out of the schedule (any time spent watching TV talk shows, for example) and plug in a workout. Not only will that be time well spent, but the long-term result of increased physical energy and vitality will allow you to accomplish more in your other endeavors. Oddly, time spent on physical conditioning typically represents time gained - not lost.
In “Faust,” Goethe wrote, “Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute.” If we get earnest about it and seize some minutes to take care of ourselves, then the hours and days and years of our lives will take care of themselves.
MEMO: Jeff Maucione is a certified health and fitness instructor based in Clarkston, Wash.