The science is crystal clear. If we want to live good lives, we need to move our bodies. Nearly every marker of vitality—from reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes to enhanced brain function, elevated mood, better ability to deal with stress, reduced anxiety and depression, and amped cognitive and physical abilities—is made better by exercise. Exercise is powerful medicine.
Problem is, most of us have come to believe exercise is something to be endured rather than embraced. That is tragic. Exercise done right adds to your life. Not just because of its many benefits, but because the very experience of it can be deeply enjoyable—when you do it right.
When we were kids, we ran around all day, climbed, danced, rolled, threw, caught, wiggled, jumped, cartwheeled, and kicked our way through the day. We worked hard, really hard, and loved it. The only reason we stopped is because we had to. Homework or dinner called us in. For those who played sports, there was the added experience of camaraderie, collaboration, shared effort, friendship, and belonging. We didn’t call it exercise back then; we called it play, and we couldn’t get enough. Our job today is to turn exercise back into play. To change repetition and boredom into novelty and engagement. To turn isolation and intimidation into friendship and belonging. To turn forced participation and futility into craved activity and transformative results.
Some in the industry have started to get it. They’ve realized the old way is broken and offered up activities, settings, and experiences that let us reclaim a sense of play, engagement, and community. You don’t have to join a facility to bring joyful exercise back into your life. Get outside, if that’s your style. Hike, ride, surf, trail run, Hula-Hoop. Join a group, team, or club. Take different classes. Whatever it is that makes you want to do more, find it, then do it. Look for things that demand not just physical effort but also mental focus and attention. When you engage your mind, time stops and effort becomes play. Even better, do it with others. Find a partner, group or community or rally a bunch of friends and create your own group or challenge to do together. This adds the element of friendship and accountability, especially in the early days when you’re still getting fit enough to make it truly fun and desirable. Do this right and exercise becomes something you no longer fear and avoid. Much to your surprise, it becomes something you enjoy, then crave, even lust after and lament when you miss a day! You find yourself doing what, before, was unthinkable, reworking your day to include more of it, even sneaking out at lunch for an “exercise quickie!”
Don’t stop there. Exercise is great. But truth is, it’s not enough. You may have seen all the headlines about sitting over the past few years. Sitting is the new smoking. It is now listed as a major risk factor for a wide variety of diseases. Even worse, exercising for 30 to 60 minutes does not come close to making up for the damage done by sitting. Actually, it’s not really sitting that is taking us down. It’s the act of remaining static and inactive for long periods of time in any position. We are built for motion. Nearly every beneficial mind and body system is optimized when we move and slowly shuts down when we don’t. The only way to counter this is to bring movement back into our days. Not in one intense burst, but woven throughout. We can do this any number of ways.
Set a vibration alarm to go off on your watch or phone every 50 minutes, then get up and walk around or move for 10. Grab a headset and turn every phone call into a walking or stretching call. Turn all meetings into standing meetings. It’s not that hard to bring gentle movement back into your day if you choose to make it a priority.
Exercise and movement. There are perhaps no better therapies for nearly everything that ails us. These two elixirs are powerful. Done with intention, they can also be joyful, life-affirming, connection-driven parts of life that prime many of the same neurological and chemical responses unleashed by, you guessed it, sex.
Before we wrap this conversation, we should probably address the elephant in the bedroom. Can you really make exercise more fun than sex? C’mon, I know you’ve been wondering. Even more intriguing, could sex actually count as exercise? A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS One looked at the question. Strapping armbands on 21 couples that averaged 22 years old, researchers measured energy expenditure during sex and running (not at the same time). On average, participants burned about 85 calories, or 3.6 calories per minute, during moderate-intensity sex. The same participants burned about 244 calories over 30 minutes of running. What does that tell us? It certainly counts as vigorous movement, and maybe even moderate exercise. With care and the right intention, both sex and exercise can be a lot of fun, involve other people, and have mood and health-elevating effects. But, it’s probably a good idea to bring them into your life as separate good life interventions.
Excerpted with permission by Hay House, Inc. from How to Live a Good Life by Jonathan Fields.
Jonathan Fields founded the media and education venture, Good Life Project, where he and his team lead a global community in the quest to live more meaningful, connected, and vital lives; produce a top-rated podcast with millions of downloads; and offer a growing catalogue of events, trainings and courses. 800-CEO-READ named his last book, Uncertainty Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brillance the #1 personal development book of the year. Learn more at goodlifeproject.com.