How to Reverse the Consequences of Physical Inactivity

The risks, dangers, and consequences associated with physical inactivity is one of the most important subjects in our day and age. But sadly, this topic is usually downplayed, if not outright ignored. And when ideas are actually proposed for how to improve our rapidly declining health predicament, they’re usually piss-poor solutions that don’t actually help people in real life. So, today, I want to tell you straight how to solve this problem, in a way that most sources – including this helpful info-graphic – often fail to address.

So, would you humor me by taking a quick look at the info-graphic below? Just get an overall sense of what this is trying to communicate – no need to examine it closely and deeply reflect upon the implications of the figures. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Note: a big thanks to Terry from GymJunkies.com for putting this together!

Courtesy of: GymJunkies

All right. Now, let me make one thing very clear. I’m a big fan of info-graphics like these because they inform people and raise awareness of important (and sometimes, not-so-important) issues. I’ve written on the dangers of inactivity many times before (see here and here for a couple of the best ones), and I think this issue deserves a boat-load of attention that it’s just not getting. So, I think it’s GREAT that people like Terry are doing their part to raise awareness.

But here’s the thing. The problem with these types of info-graphics is that nobody thinks twice about their Type 2 Diabetes risk until it affects them personally. Until your doctor says, “you’re pre-diabetic” and need to stop eating so much sugar and simple carbohydrates, (etc.), it isn’t something most people think about at all. It’s not even on their radar.

And the same goes for most of the illnesses listed in that info-graphic. I mean, nobody plays billiards to lower their colon cancer risk! And nobody goes for a 30 minute walk simply because they want to expend 149 calories. Nobody cares!

Similarly, when invited to play frisbee or golf, nobody thinks, “FANTASTIC, I’ve been trying to fit something into my busy schedule that’ll help reduce the avoidable medical expenses I will likely incur over the course of my lifetime. So, yes, I’d love to play some frisbee!”

No! That would be dumb!

You see, when it comes to day-to-day decisions, most people don’t think in terms of their cancer risk, expected lifespan, or other health factors. It doesn’t even cross their minds. Similarly, most people just don’t care about calories either. And I know for darn sure that they’re not thinking about how their habits may affect their country’s economy over the next 20 years. That’s just not how most people operate. And yet, most of the time we’re told that we need to exercise and stay active for these reasons that no one actually cares about*.

*That is, until they are the ones with cancer, diabetes, or heart disease!

I think it’s time for a change of pace.

So, in case this is news to you, most people go for walks because we want to. Not only is it good for us, but it’s relaxing, and it inspires creativity, among many other great things. Plus, it’s just nice to get outside in the sunshine and enjoy some fresh air. In fact, even if there were absolutely ZERO health benefits of walking, I bet most people would still do it just because.

note: that last sentence has a big fat hint in it!

In the same breath, we go bowling with our friends because it’s fun – not because it’s healthy for us. And I’d bet my one and only Shake Weight that if we asked for a show of hands, most people would say they exercise – lift weights, do yoga, whatever – because they want to look better, feel better, move better, and be able to do the things they love – not to reduce their risk of living with hypertension.

I mean, c’mon!

Of course, the main gist of the info-graphic is that not only is physical inactivity really BAD for us, exercise – and any physical activity, for that matter – is really good for us on multiple levels (not just physical health and fitness). So, we should probably make it a high priority.

But how do we do that in practical terms?

The Solution to Extreme Inactivity

This is going to sound brain-dead simple because it is, but we tend to make it so frustratingly complicated because we’re like that. And I really don’t want you to miss the profound simplicity of this solution. So, here it is.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Do what you love.

Seriously. Find something inherently physical that you love to do, and make it a priority in your life. Remember like I said before. People don’t go on walks because of the calories they could burn or the specific health benefits. They go on walks because they want to.

“But John, I’m just not a “physical” kind of person. I don’t like exercise or sports or moving at all for that matter.”

Baloney! I don’t believe you for a second. That’s just a belief you’ve accepted and have probably refused to challenge. And I refuse to believe that there is absolutely nothing out there that you would enjoy. What’s likely happening is either you’re not looking hard enough, OR you’re not thinking outside of the box.

I’ve seen self-described, lifelong couch potatoes experience true joy when they go outside to play ball with their grandkids. I’ve witnessed several times when an unfit, overweight person stands in awe at the summit of the mountain they just climbed and conquered – often because a close friend encouraged them to come for a hike. And I’ve watched people take part in an activity they haven’t done since they were kids, and absolutely loved it as adults.

So, back to my suggestion: do what you love – something you would really enjoy, that you’d find intrinsically rewarding, that you would do just because. Do you hear what I’m saying? I’m asking you to give yourself permission to enjoy yourself…on a regular, and possibly even daily basis. Who wouldn’t like to make that a habit?

You see, so many people treat exercise like a business deal – trading their time and energy for a certain reward or outcome. But here’s the thing that could rock your world: when the actual reward is the process itself, the results take care of themselves. And if you could only find your process that you’re absolutely crazy about, then you’ll never have to “work” a day of your life.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

So, if you can’t stand the gym, but you absolutely love golfing, then get a membership at your nearest club. But don’t stop there. Signing up is only the beginning. Commit to going once a week. Invite your friends who are into golf, and try to reconnect with old friends who may be, too. Sign up for a tournament. Do whatever you can to make this a priority. Just start.

And if golf just doesn’t do it for you, and exercising at home sounds like a chore, then maybe the gym membership is just what you need. But signing the contract is only step one. Next, try to find a training partner. Join a class. Enter a fitness contest, and milk it for all it’s worth. Make things happen.

But maybe you’re just not into “exercise” or sports at all, but you lose track of time whenever you climb a mountain or go windsurfing because it’s just so awesome – and it doesn’t even feel like exercise to you (note: that’s how it should be!). Then do that instead. It’s really that simple.

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold J. Toynbee

And if you’re truly at a loss for ideas, then I’ve got a hundred of them for you here: How to Love What You Do – Plus 100 Ways to Disguise Exercise.

Final Words

There is a lot of value to understanding the health dynamics associated with physical activity, or the lack thereof. But I think we’ve gotten too fixated on the cost to benefit ratios that try to quantify the results we can get from our efforts. We aren’t robots. And fixating on the results, instead of the process, is not only an ineffective approach, it’s oftentimes totally backwards.

So, let’s keep things in perspective, folks. And let’s keep things simple, too. If you’re struggling with a serious case of inactivity, then find something you love to do and get to it. And let it grow from there. It doesn’t have to be perfect. So, don’t over-think it. Learn to love the process and let the results take care of themselves.

You with me?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao-tzu
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