The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness

13Feb/120

What Physical Fitness Can Do For Your Life

“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training… What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” – Socrates

Priorities have shifted a great deal in two and a half millennia.  In the ancient world physical fitness was often a matter of life and death, both for an individual and his or her civilization.  According to myth, Greek city-states dominated in part through sheer physical superiority; their citizen-soldiers were simply better at killing their enemies at 100 paces with a javelin.

Javelin Thrower

How many Olympic gold medalists can you name?

Today we place a low premium on fitness.  Sure, professional athletes are lavishly compensated, but they are a small subset of our population compared to the throngs of their generally out of shape fans.

In the 21st century it’s a fact that non-physical ability is a better indicator of your income, and your social standing.  We venerate the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, and want to emulate their success.  We spend hours at our desks, in front of computers, in our cars, then in our off time we return to our comfortable homes in neighbourhoods that are not set up to entice us outside.

Don’t get me wrong — personally I’m more proud of my mental abilities than physical.  Making a living as a CEO, a programmer, or a writer is great!  But it’s a shame that so few people seek to find out what their bodies are capable of.  Socrates’ quote is still incredibly relevant.  Recently I’ve come to believe the following:

Physical fitness is one of the keys to achieving excellence in all areas.

I’ve always enjoyed being active, playing basketball and soccer, and lifting weights. But I never took it seriously, never pushed my limits until I started crossfit six months ago.  If you don’t know, it’s one of the most intense fitness programs out there.

I thought I was in great shape, but my first day was humbling.  After half an hour I had turned beet red, was on the brink of vomiting, dizzy, and the feeling didn’t pass for 20 minutes.  But when it did, I felt euphoric!

I kept going back, and while the nausea gradually faded, the benefits only piled up.  My general mood improved, I felt less tired during the day, and I was sleeping like a baby every night.

Hundreds of studies point to positive effects like these.  Most people live very stressful lives, and constant stress raises cortisol levels.  This hurts your mood, increases anxiety, stiffens your muscles, prevents you from relaxing, and kills your sex drive.

Even short, regular exercise sessions can reverse all of this, improve mental health, enhance your immune system, and delay aging.  Exercise builds self-esteem and helps you cut back on alcohol, drugs, and overeating.  It stimulates the release of endorphins, the chemicals in our brains that make us feel happy and relaxed.

It will give you clarity, patience, and concentration; it will increase your attention span and your ability to learn.

All of this pays dividends in the non-physical realms of your life.

Flipping a 600 pound tire

Most fun crossfit exercise ever

After only a month of crossfit I noticed my body changing, which by itself is highly motivating.  I also noticed that I was able to carry a few extra bags of groceries, lift heavy boxes off the floor with ease, and I was no longer out of breath climbing 2 flights of stairs.

But more fascinating I noticed myself unconsciously trying new things, meeting new people, and walking around a lot more confident about facing tough challenges.

For me the most welcomed side-effect of crossfit is that I’ve learned what it feels like to keep pushing toward a goal even when I feel like giving up.

I have a lot more work to do in the gym, but seeing myself get stronger has been a beautiful thing.


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