What I'm Reading – Review of Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play, and Joyful Movement

I just finished a great book by Frank Forencich (whom I interviewed here), called Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play, and Joyful Movement. I’ll be up front and give it 4 out of 5 stars along with the recommendation that all of my serious readers get this book.

The book isn’t a fitness manual, with an organized plan that is prescribed for a specific need or population. Rather it provides an opportunity to challenge your views and change your perspective about health, movement, and exuberant living. It offers a glimpse into a lifestyle that is obviously different from the norm, and encourages freethinking, creativity, and fun. It’s a joyful alternative to the dead-end of conventional wisdom in health and fitness.

The book starts off with a warning (aka medical disclaimer):

Before beginning a program of physical inactivity, consult your doctor. Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.

This mild humor is strewed about generously throughout the entire text, making it a real easy read. The stories, imaginary characters, and guest appearances from Frank’s dog Mojo make it a real page-turner. The only thing that inhibits a quick read is the deep thought that it inspires. Sometimes, I would just have to put the book down and think about what I had just read, and other times I would just highlight, underline, or jot down some notes to come back to later. My notes got denser the further into the book I got. I might as well highlighted the last 4 chapters.

Frank says in the introduction that his book will show you that “the world of the body is far more than one of sets, reps, and calories. It is immensely rich and endlessly fascinating – an ideal life-long study.” When I was done, I was experiencing idea and information overload. I had just read too much to contain within myself. There were ideas bouncing around my head like crazy. So, I’ll try to summarize some of the main points of what I’ve learned in this review.

1) The placebo effect is at work in almost every situation imaginable – not just in the medical industry. If you believe that you’re going to get healed, then you have a much better chance of actually healing. Medical research has proven this beyond reasonable doubt. Similarly, if you BELIEVE that you’re going to get healthier, fitter, faster, stronger, or leaner, then you’ll have a much better chance of that actually happening. If you believe your strength training program is perfectly suited to your individualized needs, then it will work better for you than if you think it’s just a cookie-cutter approach for average Joe’s.

The effects of this new knowledge of the placebo effect are far-reaching for sure, but this is not new news, except in the research community. Many philosophers, visionaries, and success coaches have long taught that success in any endeavor starts in the mind.

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

What the mind conceives the body achieves. – unknown

Taken a step further, your own internal dialogue will also have a profound effect on your lifestyle. If you’re always thinking…

“I’m so out of shape”
“I’m not as young as I used to be”
“I can’t do that”

Then, your body will respond accordingly with poor health, fear-reactivity, dis-ease, pain, and weakness.

On the other hand, if you’re always thinking…

“I’m getting into the best shape of my life”
“I’m aging, but I’m not slowing down”
“I can do anything I put my mind to”

Then, your body will also respond accordingly with joyful movement, health, and abundant energy.

The take-home message is that you have to get out there and express yourself positively. Tell the world who you really are!

2) Adopting the mindset of abundance is paramount to long-term success in anything related to health, fitness, or athleticism. Beyond our basic needs of survival like food, water, and shelter, an abundance mindset is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re focused on temporal poverty, on scarcity of resources (not just money, but time, education, etc.), then you won’t be able to fully appreciate the abundance that is literally sitting on our doorsteps. This is catastrophic to not only our health as individuals, but our communities in terms of creativity, freethinking, and passion. A lot more is lost than just resources when you focus on how much you don’t have.

3) We already know that one of the MAJOR secrets to health and vitality is vigorous movement. The research is without a doubt in favor of frequent, vigorous movement. Even our governmental authorities have been telling us this for decades. But you don’t need to read a research journal or look to the most recent guidelines for healthy living to know that physical activity is good for you. We don’t need more research, and we definitely don’t need more guidelines. Frank says, “what we need is primal participation…If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.

My interpretation “BUCK UP PEOPLE!”

4) We need to balance exuberance with discipline. If we have too much of one, the other will suffer. If we’re gung-ho about our new fitness program, it won’t last forever, and we’ll probably lack the discipline to keep it up long-term. Similarly, if we’re psycho-disciplined, devoid of fun and play, then we’ll get bored or unsatisfied. We’ll turn play into work, and that isn’t sustainable either. It’s best to have a little of both.

By the way, I’ll never just “workout” ever again.

5) Do you want to know the secret to sustainable health and vitality? If you’re a rabbit, stop chasing carrots and running away from sticks. If you’re a human, stop chasing health and fitness benefits and running away from health and fitness consequences. Instead, choose a lifestyle that is intrinsically rewarding. Do things that you would do just for their sake. Having trouble with a weight problem? Try kayaking or hiking or dancing or rock climbing or clubbell swinging or yoga or weightlifting or martial arts – try something that you will enjoy regardless of the outcome. One rule: It must involve vigorous movement!

That is just a taste of what I experienced when reading Exuberant Animal, and it hardly does my notes justice. Hopefully, you now have an idea that this is a different kind of book, one only suited for those with open minds.

As a literary work in the health and fitness industry, it gets 4 out of 5 stars. But with that said, I think everyone whom is involved with the health, fitness, movement, athletic, and wellness areas should get a copy of this to read and reflect on. The last star was withheld because a lot of Frank’s claims seem like common sense, but are not backed up with proof or convincing evidence. But this is part of the natural appeal, the idea that true healthy living advice transcends modern research. So, it feels like you’re taking his word for it most of the time, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He does provide footnotes in some chapters and a recommended reading section at the end, which is very helpful.

As an aside, I don’t believe or endorse the evolution theory myself, which is espoused throughout much of the text.  Evolutionist or not, Frank has got a perspective on health and movement (not just fitness) that everyone should be open to receiving. I hope that this inconsequential difference in beliefs wouldn’t keep anyone from exploring the value contained within.

4 out of 5 stars, and two hearty thumbs up! Pick up your copy at Amazon here:
EXUBERANT ANIMAL: THE POWER OF HEALTH, PLAY AND JOYFUL MOVEMENT:

Also, check out Frank’s site http://ExuberantAnimal.com

And don’t miss the insightful interview I did with him here:
John Interview’s Frank Forencich

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

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