Your Greatest Asset

One of my clients (we’ll call him George) came to me because he wanted to lose weight. He desperately wanted to lose weight. Over the course of ten years sitting behind a desk, he had gradually packed on an extra fifty pounds which, he painfully admitted, had become an encumbrance. His knees and back bothered him most of the time and he was often winded. With a very demanding work schedule involving a lot of travel, room service, business dinners – there was scarcely any time left for his wife and three children, let alone for self-care. I suggested a shift in his priorities might be in order if he was to be serious about tackling his weight loss goal. “But I don’t have time to exercise!” he protested. It’s a familiar refrain that most working adults can identify with.

After looking at some of the reasons why he might like to lose the weight, he confessed that the real motivation was that he was afraid he would not be around for his kids as they got older. Not only that, but he was envious of other dads with greater energy who, unlike him, were able to chase after their toddlers in the park without serious risk of a heart attack. At last, we were getting somewhere. Like a lot of men his age, George was torn between what he saw as providing for his family, and being with his family. “I commute 3 hours door-to-door, I work 10 hours a day, where am I gonna get an hour to spend at the gym?” he asked pointedly. As a banker, George understood better than most the principles of saving and investment. I suggested he think of exercise as time invested rather than time spent. Why is it that when someone is working themselves into an early grave (as George clearly was), we say they are “investing” in the future? But when someone makes working out a priority, they are “spending” time at the gym? Maybe this is part of the problem. To George’s way of thinking, hours spent exercising was a luxury he simply couldn’t afford. I suggested otherwise: it is a down payment towards his future that he needed to make NOW.

Just as it’s a smart idea to start adding early to your 401K – even if you don’t feel you can afford to – so too should you start committing to your future health, long before you begin to have problems. Because whether it is your body or your money, failing to contribute early will cost you dearly over the long haul.

One of my first jobs out of college was working as a commission-based recruiter. Hungry to build capital, I worked constantly and made a lot of cash for the firm and for myself, but spent little time making deposits into my physical well-being bucket. And it showed. It showed so much that I rarely looked in the mirror as it was too depressing. My weight was growing nearly as fast as my account balance and I was unhappy with how I felt. Like George, I had come to believe that the pursuit of health at that time was an imposition on my already overscheduled, overcommitted life. Thankfully, I have since learned that maintaining an active lifestyle is not burdensome – it is liberating. Ask anyone who has suffered a major medical setback, and they will tell you what wise people already know – that all the money in the world is of little use without the health to enjoy it.

No matter what your age or fitness level, it is never too late to begin protecting your assets. Here are some things to keep in mind as you get started:

Make it Play

Do you remember what it was like to play catch or soccer during breaks at school? Even if you were not an athlete, I bet you found an activity in which you were engaged. Whether it was hanging from the jungle gym, jumping rope or climbing rocks- chances are, you tried new things if it looked like fun. Passion trumps excuses. If there isn’t any joy in your movement, you’re likely not to show up for it (especially as an adult), because there’s little incentive. And showing up is the first step. Exercise does not have to be punishing or boring, unless you make it so. I adore hiking. I also love running and cycling. For you it may be yoga, walking the dog or simply working in the yard. Whatever it is, use what you like to do to get and stay in shape. Make a plan around it and be consistent. Should you cycle this weekend or do pilates? Access your “getting warmer, getting colder” signals when experimenting with different ideas. Surf or Kayak? Tennis or Golf? Choose whatever feels most enticing.

Be a Believer

Exercise is a bit like a prayer: there’s no reason to pray if you’re not a believer. Just as you need to have faith before you can have a meaningful prayer life, you must also believe in the intrinsic value of health, if you hope to achieve it. When I embark on a weight loss program with a new client I am coaching, I ask them to remain hopeful in the face of what they often see as insurmountable odds. See it done. Imagine that it is possible. Then I remind them of the importance of paying respect at “church”. Church might be an hour they devote to the dance studio, the pool or at the track. Wherever your “temple”, make sure to pay homage three or more times per week, minimum of 30 minutes each.

Go to Sleep Statistics show that 70 million Americans (that’s almost 25% of the population) suffer from sleep disorders and yet, sleep is essential to our overall health. It is the time when our bodies repair the mental wear-and-tear we suffer during the day. Our “always-on” culture has created a sleep-deprived generation. Cell phones, computers, PDAs and 24-hour cable television keep our brains overstimulated. The result is fatigue, overeating, poor concentration and, not surprisingly, weight gain. A sound night’s sleep keeps us from feeling grumpy and irritable. It also cuts your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and other serious illnesses. Try heading off to bed an hour earlier or simply turn out the lights and make it possible to secure 7-8 hours of quality rest. Eat Small and Often Our human ancestors probably experienced a balanced correlation between activity and food consumption. We no longer burn calories running from dinosaurs, though we often eat like we do. Temptation abounds in our consumer culture, and no amount of aerobics can compensate for a daily diet of fast food, snacks and sugary drinks. Yet we do have the power to choose our food wisely. Shop with a list which includes such items as almonds, oatmeal, fish, organic eggs, olive oil, brown rice, chicken, yogurt and super grains. Instead of the old-school “three square meals”, try to eat somewhere between 5 and 6 small meals a day, including fresh fruit and veggies. And always have some protein on your plate before noon. Be a Leaf on a Tree Psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Clare is quoted as saying: “The people who are best protected against certain physical diseases – cancer, heart disease, for example – seem to be much more likely to be socially involved. You have to be both an individual – to have a sense that you are unique and you matter – and you need to be connected to a bigger organism- a family, a community, a club.” What he’s really saying is this – don’t isolate. For human beings to be truly healthy, we need to feel like we are a part of something bigger than just ourselves. A leaf off a tree has the advantage that it floats wherever it wants, but once it’s disconnected from the tree, it quickly dies. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between our physical condition and social connectedness. Having people around you who make you feel vibrant and alive can literally add years to your life. What I said to George – and I’ll say again here – is if you really want to “provide” for your loved ones, the best way to do that is to pay attention to your personal wellbeing. It may feel difficult if you’re a workaholic who wears stress as a badge of honor, but you are not going to provide much to anybody if you’re otherwise laid up or in a hospital bed. We often take the miracle of good health for granted until we lose it. Show your appreciation for the health that you already have by continually investing in what is undoubtedly your greatest asset. And the next time someone asks you where you are going at lunchtime, tell them you’re going to make a deposit – even if you’re going to the park.

I’ll meet you there.