When I was a teenager, I remember thinking and even remarking that people who workout and watch what they eat are stupid. I saw people who exercised and ate well as self-obsessed narcissists who had been tricked into thinking that their primary goal in life should be to look like the pretty people on TV. And I—through a distorted definition of freedom that is commonly shared by many Americans—asserted that I was free to be as lazy as I wanted, and that I was free to eat whatever junk I could cram down my gullet.
In a way, I was right. I was free to treat my body however I wanted. That’s one of the benefits of being young—you possess very little foresight and the damage you inflict on yourself hasn’t become readily apparent yet, so everything seems like clear sailing. As I grew older, however, I began to realize that if I don’t take the steps necessary in keeping my body healthy, my freedoms could become limited very suddenly.
The body plays a pretty important role in an individual’s existence, at least temporally speaking. Its job is to carry you around and more-or-less obey your commands. It’s the vehicle through which your mind expresses itself and engages you with the world. But what happens when that vehicle breaks down? What happens when you no longer have control over the machine?
The Freedom to Make Ourselves Sick
I was dead on correct when I was young. Each of us is perfectly free to mistreat our bodies however we want to. All too often, however, we don’t think about whether or not acting out a particular freedom is the best course of action.
People aren’t very good at considering how their actions today will impact them tomorrow, and they’re even worse at thinking five, ten, however many years forward. Sure, today I am free to eat junk and avoid exercise. But in five years if I become diagnosed with diabetes or any of the other plethora of potential health problems, hindsight will be casting a rather accusing gaze at the selfishly-youthful me.
Too many people act out certain freedoms without consideration for how their behavior could limit the freedoms of others. When we assert our freedom for unrestricted gun ownership, we end up forcing others to live and sometimes die in fear. When we demand the right to unimpeded consumerism, the result is child labor and environmental destruction. In both cases, we might as well say, “My right to do whatever I want right now is more important than your right to live without fear, to have clean air and water, or to determine your own destiny.”
Similarly, when we disregard the health of our bodies, we are saying to our future selves, “My right to eat poorly and avoid exercise now is more important than your health later.” And we treat our bodies poorly now, only to have them break down later. Suddenly what was once the vehicle for our interaction with the outside world becomes a restrictive prison.
What a self-destructive way to go about life! At least when you’re limiting the freedoms of others you can argue that there a bit of self-interest in it, but when it comes to disregarding the health of your own body, it’s essentially just a slow form of masochism.
When you eat well and exercise, the only person who benefits is you. Speaking as an American, such a purely self-concerned activity should be second nature—we love doing things that benefit no one but ourselves.
But somehow, we have decided that it is better to exercise our freedom to make ourselves sick. For some people, it is perhaps because they don’t feel that they possess the willpower needed to treat themselves better. And perhaps for others their own future health is too abstract a benefit, and they need a reason that addresses what’s happening now.
Better Health Makes the Health Insurance Debate Less of an Issue
The whole debate over health insurance and how it can be made more affordable and universally available is undeniably complex. There are a wide variety of factors that go into why insurance is so expensive in the US. Perhaps, however, we’re looking at the issue all wrong.
We’re so focused on what happens to us once we’re sick that we’ve forgotten to address being healthy in the first place. It’s almost as if being and becoming sick has become the new default mode of existence. Americans have become so unwilling to change their behavior that they’re more interested with tackling the consequences than the cause (this extends into many facets of life, not just health).
Think about it this way: Every single day, the US spends dizzying sums on dealing with the unhealthy choices made by millions of Americans years ago.
Let that sink in for a moment. And while you’re at it, consider the fact that right now as you read this, millions of Americans are making unhealthy decisions that we will have to pay for five or ten or fifty years from now. Our freedom to treat our bodies poorly inflicts itself on yet another victim.
And perhaps that’s still a bit too abstract for some. Let’s shift to a concrete benefit that you can derive from eating well and exercising now.
Treat Your Body Well and You Will Feel Better, Happier, and Be More Capable in the Present
The future you is not the only one who benefits from good health. It is well known how diet and exercise affect one’s mood and stress levels. The endorphins released during a workout causes what is called a “runner’s high”. Ask any fitness aficionado, and they will attest to the mental benefits of exercise.
And eating well makes your body work better on a whole. By eating the right foods you can make your organs function better, improve the condition of your skin and hair, and strengthen your digestive system. You’ll poop better.
Above all, the better condition you’re in, the more capable you will be. What’s more self empowering and attractive to others than being a person who can handle anything no matter what the situation? From opening a tight jar-lid to defending one’s self and others from attack, being physically capable is endlessly useful. This sense of capability in-turn makes you feel more self-empowered, which leads to a slew of other benefits.
In the end, maintaining your physical health is all about the age old quest to find strength and balance in the body, mind, and spirit, and the more you endeavor to eat well and improve the condition of your body, the more you will realize the benefits passed on to the two higher realms.
Now, how does one eat well and get into shape? This is getting rather long, so I’ll save that for my next post. Until then, try to get in a bit of walking and cut down on the junk intake. Your future self will thank you.