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  • Tom Birchard

Health and Wellness Pillar #2 – Exercise

Back on September 13 I posted about my perspective on the 4 key pillars of health, those being diet, exercise, sleep, and mindset/emotional wellbeing. Shortly after that I dove into diet and nutrition. I had intentions to then write a post on exercise but then an election happened, there was Thanksgiving, I watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and heck even a wide receiver started at quarterback in the NFL…needless to say I got distracted by some other compelling topics.

Well as cliché as it is with my first post of 2021 and all the New Year’s Resolutions around exercise, I’m finally back to that topic. But even this time I almost drifted to something else but two incidents in the last 24 hours told me this post was meant to be. For a little humor they were…

· Yesterday evening after Ashley and I had some maternity pictures taken, I went to the gym later than I normally would for a short workout. A man around 70 years old who I’d never met before came to give me kudos on the weight I was dumbbell pressing and told me I must be a “strong Irishman”. He even guessed that I looked 31 years old, so he’s ok in my book!

· I was back in the gym this morning but this time for some cardio. During a Peloton bike ride, while the song lyrics “I’m too sexy for my shirt” played the virtual instructor commanded me to take my shirt off! I figured these two events must be a sign the timing is right to make a post on exercise. And for anyone who’s worried, I opted not to take my shirt off figuring it might be frowned upon in the country club gym or at a minimum would greatly embarrass my wife.

Trying to prescribe a “one size fits all” exercise regimen is an exercise in futility, no pun intended. For some people making the commitment to walk one mile each day might be a major step in the right direction, while others training for an ironman competition would require a much more rigorous protocol. An individual’s age, pre-existing conditions, goals, access to equipment and probably several other factors I’m not considering all factor into the optimal exercise program. Nonetheless I think there are some helpful principles for anyone looking to start or modify an exercise routine.

There’s a concept in math and science called “inversion” where you start at the end, and attempt to work your way backwards from there. I think this is an extremely helpful concept in the context of exercise. One of the best examples I’ve seen of that is something Dr. Peter Attia calls the “Centenarian Olympics”. The idea is to assume you’re going to live to be 100, and think about what physical activities you’d like to be able to do at that point. For some it could just be walking unassisted to the mailbox, for others it could be picking up a 20 pound child, others might want to be able to lift themselves out of a pool. Once you have a few of those identified, you can start to reverse engineer tangible exercises you can do now in order to increase your likelihood of being able to do these things far off in the future. For me the motivation from an outlook like this is stronger than the desire for weight management now, or how I look in a mirror. Like Naval Ravikant says, “All self-help boils down to ‘choose long-term over short-term’” and exercise is no exception.

That being said I think there’s an often overlooked aspect to exercise that is absolutely KEY and differentiates it from many other short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Let’s say you forego purchasing that latest gadget that you really want so that you can save money that will compound for a future larger purchase, a house for example. Depending how much you want that gadget this could cause some psychological suffering in the short-term. With exercise though you almost feel better and more energized immediately after doing it. I can’t count the number of times I didn’t really want to go workout, especially early in the morning, and as soon as I get going with my workout and for a while afterwards I feel much better and just full of life. I’ve heard it said that if there was a pill that made you feel like you do after a good workout, that it would be the most popular drug on the market. This increase in energy can then bleed into and improve other areas of life. Tony Robbins calls it “state before strategy” so when viewed in this window, exercise is really a win-win both for the short and long-term.

Like I said I won’t attempt to spell out a specific exercise program because it really would look different for everyone. I think for most a good chunk of time could be spent in what’s called Zone 2 Training where your heart rate would allow you to barely hold a conversation while exercising at that intensity. I also think for many mixing in some shorter bursts of higher intensity cardio has significant benefits. Finally I’d say weights and strength training aren’t just for bodybuilders. After age 30 people lose as much as 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade, and some basic weight training can help to mitigate that. I’m not a medical doctor but I enjoy various types of exercise as well as researching new ones, so if you ever want to discuss anything related to the topic feel free to reach out and I’d also love to hear what’s working well for you!

Recommendations from last two weeks:

· Article - Growth Without Goals by Patrick O'Shaughnessy – This article is several years old but worth sharing. Last year was the first year in a very long time I didn’t set detailed New Year’s Resolutions and the perspective provided in this article is a key reason why. Re-reading it now it’s written from the perspective of a soon to be father which makes it resonate even more for me right now.

· Podcast Episode - The Big Man Can't Shoot by Malcolm Gladwell – Several of you have mentioned you can’t really get into podcasts. Well if you have any interest at all and especially if you enjoy sports, I’d suggest checking out this short 35 minute episode. My dad recommended it and it has some profound insights into human nature while being really enjoyable and easy to listen to.

· Article - Get Ready for the Great Urban Comeback by Derek Thompson – This article details several disasters that ultimately triggered major inventions and innovations. The section on the Great Chicago Fire reminded me of an archaeological boat tour in Chicago that was fascinating and extremely well done. It’s thought provoking to consider these historical examples in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic and to think of the many breakthroughs that could emerge as we get to the other side of this.

· QuoteNapoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, Alexander envied Hercules, who never existed…get away from envy by avoiding comparisons with those you imagine, perhaps falsely, to be more fortunate than yourself. by Bertrand Russell (paraphrased from “The Conquest of Happiness”)

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