In the process of writing my book, I had the opportunity to brainstorm with other writers to discuss and develop ideas. One of the writers I was fortunate enough to have several talks with was Dr. Gregory Morris, a medical doctor who is now a global business and leadership consultant. This may not seem to have much in common with a book on fitness, but Dr. Morris has a profound conceptual approach to systems and problem solving that is obvious in his writing. I learned many things from my conversations with Dr. Morris and one in particular is the power of the word “value”.*
Value is a tricky word that can be both a noun and a verb. In its noun form, it is a measure of worth. When we use value as a verb, however, it becomes the act of determining that worth. You and I can value the same things differently based on our own detemination of their worth to us as individuals. In order to use value effectively, we need to CHOOSE to prioritize the things that are known to be good, not just what we are told is good.
When we think about health and fitness, the tools we choose to value become a very important part of our success or failure. The biggest hurdle we face in improving our health and fitness is choosing to value the wrong things.
The fitness and diet industry is a sales industry. It is entirely focused on convincing you of the value of the things it can sell. Workouts, gyms, supplements, diets, training packages, etc. are all products with a marketing machine behind them designed to convince you to part with your money.
The science and medical research tells us a different story from the diet and fitness industry. According to science (and not marketing) there are incredibly valuable small habit changes you can make in your lifestyle that will deliver the big changes you are looking for in your health and wellness. The first step in making these changes is to choose to value the science behind them and use it to improve your lifestyle.
The other step to making these habits stick is to move away from valuing things that aren’t necessarily helpful. For example, the fitness industry would like us to think that intense workouts are the only way to be healthy and lose weight. This is not true, but it has become something that people value over less intense exercise. Because of this, walking for fitness has been relegated to the activities of the elderly and out of shape in many people’s minds. The truth is, walking is one of the healthiest activities we can engage in on a regular basis for both our bodies and our minds.**
Think about how we obsess over the diets of the lean healthy people of European villages and African savannahs as if finding the perfect macronutrient ratio or secret ingredient will deliver the same results. We fail to recognize that a big part of their success is their daily habit of walking as much as possible.
Speaking of diet, when you value foods (or diets) because you think they will contribute to weight loss, you are less likely to eat foods for their nutritional value and health benefits. Pretty much all of us have friends or family doing “keto” or other fad diets. What happens when you follow a diet with strict rules, you tend to get caught up in eating the foods that are “allowed” and miss the actual purpose of the diet, ie not overeating. Not overeating is the fundamental tenet of weight loss.
To be healthy, we need to consume foods that are nutritionally dense so that we can deliver these vital nutrients to our bodies without consuming excess calories. Our bodies need vitamins, minerals, protein, carbhohydrates, fat, and likely a whole host of naturally occuring compounds that we can only get by consuming minimally processed, natural foods. In fact, the bacteria we rely on for a healthy gut comes from consuming healthy, natural foods.
When we take the approach of prioritizing nutritionally dense, minimally processed foods for our health, we view eating as positive (my body needs more fruits and vegetables) rather than negative (I can only have bacon and eggs for breakfast). I have seen people forgo eating a piece of fruit because they are worried about how many carbs they have already consumed that day. I will wager that no one has ever gained excessive weight from eating too much fruit.
Valuing sweat, pain, and fatigue over good movement is probably the most egregious value sin I witness in the gym. Sometimes this is the fault of the participants, sometimes it is the fault of a trainer/instructor. Either way, it robs you of the opportunity to make your body mechanically efficient and resistant to injury by practicing good movement at an intensity where it is not breaking down. Intensity has its place, but I have had no shortage of people in my gym who have been injured by doing workouts with poor technique that looked “good enough”.
There are a lot of people who will say that we focus too much on good form and it isn’t necessary. That may be true for some people, who know how to move correctly and instinctively. It is not true for a lot of people, especially those who are new to fitness or returning to fitness after a long hiatus. I have routinely seen people thrown into high intensity workouts with little individualized biomechanical guidance and guess what happens? Overuse injuries, torn ACLs, torn hip labrums, torn shoulders, etc. It does not matter how strong you are or how conditioned you are, when you are learning a new movement, you need to be patient and learn.
The other part of valuing pain, sweat, and fatigue in a workout is that many people who kill themselves in the gym on a regular basis do not value being additionally active for the rest of the day. They figure they have paid their penance in sweat and there is no need to do more. They couldn’t be more wrong. Practicing good posture and movement throughout our day is actually what we evolved to do well. Our workouts should not result in us resting in our office chair or on the couch for the remainder of our time. Instead, they should enhance our ability to be upright and active.
We need to value all of our activity, regardless of intensity, as a contributor to our overall health. In other countries, Japan, Uganda, Finland to name a few, many people will tell you that they don’t “exercise”, but in reality they spend many hours a day walking, standing, and doing manual tasks. Their good health is evidence of that.
If you’ve been struggling with your health and/or fitness, think about the value of small changes to your routine. Its important that you not only value the activity, but that you pay attention to how the activity affects you. Do you feel better? Do you have more energy? Do you feel your muscles working? Is your digestion improved? Do you feel less stress?
Here are some examples:
- If you spend most of your day sitting, get up, stretch, and walk around for five minutes every hour.
- Prioritize eating a piece of fruit or a serving of vegetables with every meal or snack.
- Take a 15-30 minute daily walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator and park farther away from the storefront when you run errands.
- Spend some time outside every day.
I guarantee that these things will have a positive effect on both your health and quality of life. Continuing to make small valuable changes in your routine will deliver far better results and habits over the long term than sudden and extreme changes. The most important part of this is that you choose to value what you are doing.
Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice. -Anton Checkov
*Dr. Morris’ book, The Nature Of Work In The 21ˢᵗ Century, will also be published in April 2021 and I am sure that anyone (business person or not) who enjoys a conceptual and philosophical approach to systems and problem solving will benefit from reading it.
**To read more about the amazing health and cognitive benefits of walking, check out neuroscientist Shane O’Mara’s book, In Praise of Walking, or one of his many articles and interviews on the topic.