Life teaches you things.
The longer you get to live, the more you typically learn, provided you don’t program your life around a “must-see TV” schedule.
It can also teach you a lot about what’s worth living for. And what’s not.
A recent email on my way to the airport set the tone for this post. It was a link to an article called “Workout Guidelines for Men over 40.”
Most articles and advertorials of this ilk are painful for me. This one was no exception, with “start at one full body workout a week, and go for a walk every day” earning much of my pre-flight disdain.
Getting older and more beat up brings undeniable limitations, not to mention demands on your time. But it doesn’t mean you must completely check your goals or balls at the door.
Now I could go on and on about how condescending this particular article was and how those who might follow its lead will accomplish sweet dick all, but it wouldn’t be fair.
Because for a large segment of middle-aged men, this program would actually be challenging.
So how the hell did we get here?
How did men get here? To the point where an exercise program that should be on the wall at a geriatric ward is being targeted to “men over 40?”
Obviously the answer is both multi-faceted and open to debate. But one thing I know is, you can’t win a hand if the whole deck is stacked against you. And men are being shepherded down a primrose path to a miserable middle-age.
Society could celebrate many admirable human qualities, like intelligence, justice, wisdom, and altruism. But instead goes the low-brow route, focusing squarely on Physical Beauty/Capability, and Wealth/Stuff.
While having an abundance of both looks and money is ideal, if you don’t have one then you better have the other. Lest you want to spend your time on this rock overworked and miserable and scouring a sea of depressing Plenty of Fish dating profiles in search of a potential bedmate.
Now if you’re a dude blessed with Physical Beauty/Capability it’s possible to use that to acquire a lot of Wealth/Stuff, if you play your cards right. You can sign a million dollar contract with an NFL team or become the face & body of the Fast and Furious franchise, and then live a Charmed Life by any bro’s standard.
But competition for these jobs is decidedly stiff and they don’t exactly post any openings on Workopolis. Camping out in front of Universal Studios with your resume and a photo doesn’t work either. Trust me.
So by their mid-20’s, many dudes in search of a Charmed Life resign themselves to the fact that the NFL won’t be calling. So they focus instead on the other popular path to happiness, namely working their ass off to acquire Wealth & Stuff.
This approach eventually bites you in the ass.
A single-minded pursuit of Wealth & Stuff by itself never, ever satisfies. To the soul it’s like one line of cocaine, which is why we have millions of overworked men with a oversized houses full of useless stuff trying to find ways to work harder and longer, only to buy even more stuff.
But here’s the rub: the more you focus on Wealth & Stuff, the more everything else will suffer. Especially Physical Beauty/Capability, which has an important if tragically overlooked sub-category: health.
You’re being set-up to be the poster boy for Irony:
Bust your ass through endless 16 hour, fast-food powered work days … sock “enough” dough in the bank before thinking about getting back into shape … suffer a coronary while running to catch the last train home from the office.
Or just waking up one morning and realizing you’re so physically weak that the shitty over-40 fitness article that sparked this post in fact applies to you.
So how “should” you live your life?
I’ll never answer that question. Anyone who does is merely searching for approval for his or her own agenda. As always, beware of “should-ers.”
But I will make a few suggestions, for both those gifted on the Physical Beauty/Capability end, and those who’ve been a little too focused on Wealth/Stuff side. Call it wisdom from a washed-up meathead.
Embrace Health. Health must always be priority number one. The guy sacrificing sleep to juggle three jobs so his kid can go to an Ivy League school has his family’s best interest at heart. Until he’s too sick to work and his kid has to abandon school and join the workforce to pick up the slack.
To the workaholics who’ve let it slide, while there’s nothing wrong with occasionally pushing your physical and emotional limits, at some point you have to respect that your bodies ability to tolerate stress and abuse doesn’t improve with age.
And there is a tipping point. The time to start taking care of yourself and your health is now. Not tomorrow.
Good food, clean water, fresh air, exercise, sleep, laughter, and sex. You decide the order.
Help Others Embrace Health. If you’re blessed with good health, help those not as fortunate or committed as you. I’m wrapped up in a world of physical nitpicking. 90% of my time is helping guys add size to their arms or lose that last bit of fat around their belly button.
However, I occasionally get the privilege of helping someone (males and females) lose a lot of weight – enough to significantly change their health and quality of life. And it’s even more satisfying.
But you don’t have to count macros or design training programs. You can volunteer at a hospital, drive chemo patients back home after treatment, even just offer to help a family member who needs it. You won’t regret it.
Embrace Honesty — and Ignore What Other People Think. People who go through life in great shape make no apologies about it. This is just how they treat their bodies – there isn’t any other way. If someone wants to call them superficial or obsessed then fuck ‘em.
On the other hand, those who’ve let it slide often have all kinds of excuses and reasons. “My career is too hectic” or “I can’t be sweaty at the office” or “my old badminton injury keeps flaring up.”
In my experience, it’s all just code for “I have never been very comfortable or successful exercising, and would rather not fail at something so personal again.”
But you won’t fail. As long as you never stop trying.
Embrace Something Other than You. This can be a huge motivator. Not everyone is motivated by having big arms or a rocking Fran time. It’s not uncommon for a fit person to say the number one reason they stay so committed is that it makes them better parents. I know successful people who got back into shape because they felt it made them a better role model for their employees.
If something stokes your fitness fire, don’t discredit it — run with it.
Embrace Structure. Physique transformation boils down to effective time management and being organized. Everything from shopping to meal prep to exercise and sleep must be accounted for. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, especially if you’ve never done it before.
If you’re just coming into this lifestyle, treat it like a business plan. Write down everything that needs to be done, set deadlines, and here’s the big thing, outsource accordingly. For many, a meal delivery service is a godsend.
Embrace Fun. This whole lifestyle can get to be a drag. Especially if it’s the end of a long workday and the last thing you want to do is put on your sweats and head to the gym. That’s why it’s crucial to try to find something about it that you enjoy other than just “getting it over with.”
Seeing veins in your arms isn’t everyone’s version of satisfaction. Maybe it’s exercising with your wife or kids after a long day? I have a client who built a kick-ass home gym. He loves spending an hour a day in there, because it reminds him of how successful he is. Hey, whatever works.
Don’t set yourself up for a mid-life meltdown. And if you’re already there, it’s not too late to change directions.
The way I see it, if you were blessed to have been born with a healthy, functioning body – and it’s an enormous blessing – then you have two responsibilities:
- Maintain or improve the health and vitality of that body to the best of your ability (within reason).
- Help others who aren’t as fortunate as you.
Oh, and have a little fun along the way.
If that isn’t a “rest of your life” worth living then I don’t know what is.