Overheard this weekend (can’t remember where):
“Eat healthy; exercise regularly; die anyway.”
So today, I want to evangelize a little for the cause of eating well and getting regular vigorous exercise.
And I want to do it, not in opposition to hedonism, but in passionate support of it.
If the only reason I worked out was to extend my life, I might well not do it. I certainly wouldn’t do it as much. After all, what’s the point of having more time if you’re just spending that extra time walking on a treadmill?
So I don’t work out so I’ll live longer.
And ditto all that with eating a healthy diet.
In other words:
Eating well and exercising aren’t obstacles to an enjoyable life.
They’re what make it possible.
Sure, when I was in my twenties, I could live a happily sybaritic life and still eat junk and never work out. I could dance ’til three, stay up all night playing cards, do drugs, chase women, march in the streets — all the things that made my twenty- something life worth living — with practically no effort.
But I’m 47 now. If I eat crap, I feel like crap. If I don’t work out, I get logy, irritable, depressed, easily bored, easily distracted, and physically uncomfortable. (The effect isn’t subtle, either: if I have to skip the gym for even just a couple weeks due to illness or travel or something, I start to feel achy and crabby very, very fast.)
And so I say again: Eating well and exercising aren’t obstacles to enjoying my life. They’re what make it possible.
I thoroughly agree that living this life to its fullest is crucial. (And no, that doesn’t mean being thoroughly selfish or self-indulgent; in fact, I strongly think that “living life to its fullest” includes empathy and social responsibility and staying connected with the world around us.) I think this life is the only one we have, and that not experiencing it with as much richness as we can is a tragic waste.
But if this life — and this body — is the only one we have, then don’t we want it in good working order? If you had a car that you knew for a fact was the only one you were ever going to have for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you give it regular tune-ups and oil changes? Like, to a psychotically obsessive degree? Not just so it ran long, but so it ran well, and could reliably get you where you wanted to go?
And assuming the answer is yes… why should you treat your body any differently?
And since we are our bodies, making our bodies happy is how we make ourselves happy.
I get that it’s hard. Boy howdy, do I get it. Especially at first. It does get easier with time, as your habits change: as you find healthy food that you think is delicious, as you find types of exercise you think are fun, as you learn to connect your moods and energy levels with how you’re eating and moving. But I won’t deny that it can be hard. (I recommend incremental change: adding one or two workouts a week, changing two or three meals a week from junk to actual food… and when you’re adjusted to that, adding one or two more.)
But my point is this: I think it’s a mistake to look at eating well and exercising as punishment, or as deprivation, or as virtuous but purgatorial and boring. I think it makes much more sense — and is much more sustainable — to look at eating well and exercising as a gateway to a delightfully hedonistic, richly satisfying, vigorously pleasurable life. I say one more time: Taking care of our bodies is not an obstacle to enjoying life. It is what makes enjoying life possible.
Other posts in this series:
The Eroticism of Exercise