Donald Trump recently said some pretty silly things about exercise that have been all over the news. He’s also quoted in this same GQ article saying something that’s pure exercise genius, in line with recommendations made in prestigious scientific and medical journals, and yet lost on most personal trainers, sports coaches, physicians, and others we’d all like to believe are in the know regarding exercise.
From the GQ article:
“When he learned that John O’Donnell, one of his top casino executives, was training for an Ironman triathlon, he admonished him, ‘You are going to die young because of this.’”
Donald Trump’s words again:
“You are going to die young because of this [training for an Ironman triathlon].”
Among the sea of truly ridiculous statements he’s made (not just about exercise), it’d be easy to disregard this comment as nonsense. Add to this the fact that exercise has been touted as nothing short of a cure-all and fountain of youth, this could sound truly crazy.
The truth: This statement could save lives! (That’s why I’m choosing to expound upon it.)
In fact, wellness expert Dave Asprey says almost exactly the same thing in his popular TED talk Hacking Yourself:
“So if you think you are going to be hedge-fund manager and an Ironman triathlete at the same time, you probably can do it, and it’s probably gonna take years off your life.”
The truth: Moderate exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Being sedentary and doing excessive exercise are equally deadly. Yes, deadly.
In a study article published in the American Journal of Cardiology (1), the authors state:
“In this prospective, observational study, which included 1,098 healthy joggers between 20 and 86 years of age who were followed up for 12 years, we compared the long-term all-cause mortality rates of light, moderate, and strenuous joggers with the long-term mortality rate of sedentary nonjoggers. We found a U-shaped association between jogging and mortality. The lowest mortality was among light joggers in relation to pace, quantity, and frequency of jogging. Moderate joggers had a significantly higher mortality rate compared with light joggers, but it was still lower than that of sedentary nonjoggers, whereas strenuous joggers had a mortality rate that was not statistically different from that of sedentary nonjoggers.”
The key line:
“…strenuous joggers had a mortality rate that was not statistically different from that of sedentary nonjoggers.”
This might be a shock to you since you’ve been led to believe athletes and fitness enthusiasts are the pillar of wellness. It just ain’t so. In a study article published in Sports Medicine (2), the authors state:
“While the words ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ are often used synonymously in everyday language, the terms have entirely separate meanings. Fitness describes the ability to perform a given exercise task, and health explains a person’s state of well-being, where physiological systems work in harmony. Although we typically view athletes as fit and healthy, they often are not.”
Excessive exercise has become a significant enough public-wellness problem that physicians are recommending upper limits on exercise. I know it seems out there, but it’s happening. In a study article published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (3), the authors state:
“On the basis of multiple studies, it might be prudent to limit chronic vigorous exercise to no more than about 60 min/d [minute(s) per day]”.
“A weekly cumulative dose of vigorous exercise of not more than about 5 hours has been identified in several studies to be the safe upper range for long-term cardiovascular health and life expectancy.”
The Donald isn’t so crazy after all (on this issue). Excessive exercise can, in fact, lower your life expectancy just like being sedentary can. Imagine a scene where a few really fit people are talking with a few really sedentary people. The fit people are disgusted by the sedentary people and telling them they’re killing themselves the way they’re living. The sedentary people believe the fit people are just plain nuts for exercising the way they do and have no hesitation saying so. It turns out, both crews are equally right.
People have become increasingly sedentary since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1700 C.E. The subsequent lack of nourishing movement in people’s lives has been, without a doubt, a major factor in the development of lifestyle diseases (a.k.a. non-communicable diseases) such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, dementia, cancer, and related diseases. The development of exercise has been an intelligent response. The development of extreme-exercise movements like triathlon, all endurance sports, many other sports, and many fitness movements, however, hasn’t been so intelligent as the science reveals in no uncertain terms.
Creating dangerously sedentary lives isn’t the only wellness-diminishing fallout of the Industrial Revolution. It’s also taken people out of nature, and more so out of their nature as people. It’s turned people into factory workers. Today, most people, whether they’re putting tuna in cans or performing appendectomies, work in factories. Yes, some people are very well paid, have elaborate vocabularies, and work in workplaces that don’t look like factories, but they live like factory workers. That is, they do one very specialized job over and over and they do it a lot: most of the day, most days of the week, and every week of the year minus only a few. The Industrial Revolution has also changed how people relate to themselves. They no longer relate to themselves as beings, but rather as doings. As producers. Ask people in your life at the end of the day how their day was and notice how often you hear something like, “It was good. I got a lot done.” Getting a lot done has become a primary definition of a good day, of a good life. Getting stuff done is important, no doubt, but when being industrial becomes of utmost importance, it tends to crowd out other needs which keep us well like sleep, rest, and fulfilling relationships, to name a few.
Getting really fit by exercising a shit-ton isn’t the antidote to the problems caused by the Industrial Revolution. Living a live that meets all of your needs is. I offer some suggestions of how to truly be, to truly come back into the balance of your being that’s been knocked off center since the advent of industry, and to truly thrive:
- Do moderate exercise you enjoy, or better yet, absolutely love. As the science makes clear: No pain, no gain is bullshit.
- Do non-exercise movement. This is the only movement people did before the Industrial Revolution. Walk or bicycle to work or other destinations. Garden. Dance. These are incredible ways to move that also keep you in touch with art, food, nature, and others.
- Get outside. The Industrial Revolution brought us inside. Most people live their lives inside homes, offices, cars, stores, and other buildings. Get outside in ways that fill you up. Immerse yourself in nature.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest. If you relate to yourself as an industrial production machine, sleep and rest probably feel like a waste of time. Sleep and rest are underappreciated in our culture, yet big keys to wellness. To up the ante, I introduce one of my favorite ways of being: lingering. When’s the last time you had a meal with someone and you didn’t feel like you had to rush off and do the next thing? When you lingered there and enjoyed every bit of the experience? You can linger in the shower, on a walk, while having a chat, or doing almost anything. The essence of lingering is doing something fully, something that feels really good, for as long as you want, without feeling like you should be getting something done instead.
- Find out who you really are. Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been increasingly trained how to fit into and be a cog in society. In the present day, children go to school from about five (or younger) to about 17 (or older), and are taught how to be. Such intensive training during such a formative time creates adults who have no sense of who they really are. So it’s not an odd question to ask yourself at 30 or 50 or 70: Who am I? What do I really value? When do I feel most alive? Doing some personal reflection around these questions can do a great deal to boost your wellness.
There’s more to being well than doing a lot of exercise. Being well goes hand in hand with living well.
(1) Dose of Jogging and Long-Term Mortality. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2015, 65(5), 411-419.
(2) Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy? Sports Medicine, 2016, 2(24), 1-4.
(3) Exercising for Health and Longevity Vs Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2014, 89(9), 1,171-1,175.
Author’s Note: I don’t identify as a Democrat or Republican. I’m an unenrolled registered voter. I registered as a Republican in 2008 so I could vote for Ron Paul for President of the United States in the Massachusetts primary. I registered as a Democrat in 2016 so I could vote for Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in the Maine caucuses. Otherwise, to this point in time, I’ve remained unenrolled. The present pick-a-side-and-argue political game is both dysfunctional and boring. I prefer heart-centered discussions on how we can live well together, both locally and globally.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.