Humans are not meant to be sedentary creatures. Rooted to a chair and hunched over a screen for hours on end is a sad state of affairs. This stagnation of body, mind and spirit leads to a dead end of poor posture and health, chronic negativity, and low energy. But it’s the default position for most people living in the first world. If you want to be more than an ape chained to a cubicle all day, if you want to achieve your fullest potential, you must move every day.
I’m not talking about endless sets of mindless reps of alleged exercise. I’m talking about conscious, mindful and focused activity. It shouldn’t be something you can do while staring mindlessly at the nearest screen. It should be something that requires you to engage your senses, pay attention to your movements, ergonomically imposes loads on your body, and where applicable, molds your body to adapt to a fitness target. By being fully present, you take yourself to your limits and make the most of what you’re doing.
Activity takes all forms. Hiking, swimming, weightlifting, dancing, Frisbee, bicycling, martial arts, the important thing is you move your body in a way that is challenging yet manageable and motivational. Whatever activity you engage in should motivate you to do even more of it in the future.
In my case, I block out at least an hour every day to do something. I hit the gym twice or thrice a week, perform calisthenics or go running once or twice a week, and martial arts at least twice a week. Other times I do yoga or walk for hours on end. By training in a holistic fashion, targeting different muscles and developing different skills, I’m developing all-round fitness. And more.
Regardless of what you do, by moving every day you will realize a number of important benefits.
You are not just a body. You are body, mind and spirit, intertwined and interdependent, each affecting the others.
Regular exercise leads to improved health, cardiovascular endurance, strength, metabolism, balance, and other benefits. That alone is a good enough reason to exercise regularly. But the benefits of exercise go beyond the mere physical.
Vigorous exercise prompts your brain to provide an all-natural endorphin rush. It generates a sense of well-being and euphoria that persists for hours. While exercise is not a silver bullet for mood disorders, it is a method of emotional self-regulation that just about anyone can do. It grants you control over your emotions, letting you overcome the small setbacks of life with an endorphin hit at a time of your choosing. It guards against extended periods of negative emotions while providing an incentive for you to work out again in the future, creating a virtuous cycle that leads to continued self-improvement.
Aerobic exercise is linked to enhanced fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to analyse novel problems, recognise patterns and relationships in such situations, and extrapolate the latter to solve such problems. This is especially important for creatives and entrepreneurs, since their careers is all about identifying and resolving novel problems. Thus, exercising more makes you smarter.
Exercise makes you smarter by helping you solve novel problems, letting you tackle difficult situations that require out-of-the-box thinking. It refreshes your emotional state so you’re less likely to give up in the face of negativity and adversity, and more likely to keep on going. It strengthens your body so you can execute whatever task you demand of it. While everyone can benefit from these, these three outcomes synergize especially well for entrepreneurs and professional creatives, who have to work hard for long hours, persevere in the face of never-ending obstacles, and constantly develop innovative solutions to difficult problems.
Discipline is a muscle. It grows when exercised and atrophies when unused. To achieve greatness, you must have the discipline to do the work every day. Exercising every day helps.
If you’re scheduled to lift heavy iron, train at the dojo or hit the track, go out and do it. Rain or shine, exhausted or energetic, sad or happy, you go out and do it. Set aside how you feel about the situation, about any discomfort or inconvenience you experience, and focus only on getting stuff done.
If you’ve had a bad day at work but you’re scheduled to squat for five sets of five reps, you will squat for five sets of five reps. If you slept late but promised to show up for martial arts training first thing in the morning, you will attend training. If you broke up with your lover, have a hangover, got caught in a traffic jam, whatever, you will show up and you will do what you’ve planned to do.
By training when you don’t feel like it, you are conditioning yourself to do your best in spite of what the world throws at you. You are mastering your emotions by choosing to train instead of slacking off, reducing your ability to be affected by negative emotions. You are developing the habit of seeing things through no matter what. The more you choose to train in uncomfortable situations, the lower the willpower cost you pay when you do train, so it progressively becomes easier the next time around. If you can perform at a high level when you are at your worst, you will surely excel at your best.
Discipline bleeds over. If you can be disciplined with training your body, it becomes easier to discipline yourself in every other aspect of your life, be it work, diet or whatever. You still have to consciously apply that same iron discipline to those fields, to set standards for yourself and live by them, but if you are used to applying discipline to physical activity, you can draw on those same habits of mind to impose discipline on the rest of your life.
Eliminate dead time.
Naturally, the more you do something well, the better you get at it, be it weightlifting, running, or rock climbing. But that’s only half of the equation for increased productivity. If you want to do more, you need to remove inefficiencies. By training daily, you’re not just putting more time and energy into activity — you are eliminating dead time.
When traveling to and from the gym and other training areas, I’m usually reading something. The news, philosophy, fiction, or research. This helps me make the most of transit time. When training, I’m training. I focus solely on working out, not on random distractions.
When planning my training schedule, I don’t block in rest days. Just days of varying physical activity. The day after a hard training session, I take things easier with yoga, focusing on stretching out sore muscles, developing balance and coordination, and re-energizing through breath and bodywork. If I feel parts of my body require more recuperation time, I train something else. When I train martial arts, I cycle through different intensity levels to develop different skills — go slow to develop body mechanics and precision, go fast for flow and real-time problem solving, go hard to develop anaerobic fitness and test skills. And when the opportunity arises, I pack my bag and go walking for hours. Days without physical activity is dead time — I cycle between body parts and skills to miminise dead time, and adjust intensity levels to prevent overtraining.
This principle can be applied to the rest of your life. By eliminating dead time and seeking efficiency, you develop the capacity to do more. Instead of mindlessly decomposing on a couch, do something else that allows you to train some other aspect of your entire being while the rest of your body recovers. This doesn’t mean you should avoid sleeping or recovery — it does mean you should strive to be as efficient as possible.
Movement is Life
In my last post, I wrote about writing 200,000 words in 2 months. That would not be possible if I didn’t already have a regimen of working out every day. While the physical activity is important (spending hours at your chair banging away at the keys is not conducive for long-term health), but even more valuable are the habits of mind, the discipline, inculcated from being accustomed to working at something regardless of how I feel about it. In that sense, being a pro writer isn’t all that different from daily training: the work has to be done no matter how you feel about it.
By moving more, you develop the discipline to act, no matter your personal circumstances. You increase your fluid intelligence, and with it your ability to tackle new challenges. You’re better able to self-regulate your mood, preventing you from spiralling down into never-ending discouragement and depression when things go wrong. You get healthier and stronger and fitter, allowing you to get more out of life. You eliminate periods of inefficiency, allowing you get even more stuff done. You create a virtuous cycle that keeps you growing, pushing past your limits, and achieving what you set out to do.
In other words, movement is key to a good life.
While you should move every day, this doesn’t mean you should break yourself in pursuits of such heights. If your body isn’t accustomed to it, training hard every single day of the week will lead to injuries and long-term health issues. Destroying yourself is the opposite of the goal of improved health, productivity and happiness.
Don’t be afraid to take breaks if you truly need them. While moving every day is a standard you should aspire to, recovery is as important as activity — arguably more so. Exercises stresses and tears down muscle; to grow, muscles need time to recover. Personally, my schedule is so packed that breaks tend to occur organically without my needing to arrange them. But if you haven’t reached this point, don’t worry about it. Take breaks if you need them — and if you don’t, move.
Humans aren’t sedentary creatures; they are dynamic ones. Daily physical activity helps you think better, work better, and live better. You get stronger in body, mind and spirit, and with greater strength comes greater capacity to act and achieve your goals.
Stagnation is death. Movement is life.