Throughout my life, the reasons I’ve had for being physically active have evolved. Like most children, I was active to tame the little ball of energy within me. Play was a means of exploring the world around me and learning about it, so activities like climbing trees, soccer, tennis, or track and field came naturally. There was no intellectualization of the process needed. When I started doing martial arts in my mid-twenties, however, I needed to make a conscious decision to break from a long hiatus of physical inactivity, this time to face an anxiety and depression that came with being young and arrogant. Since then, I’ve suffered from delusions of wanting to be strong or being an amateur fighter, but now I’m settling in to accepting that I’m entering my mid-life.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that we shouldn’t turn over, stop pushing ourselves, and just let the fatness come on. Our bodies evolved long ago into being built for regular exercise, and as soon as we stop moving, they start breaking down. A younger person can bounce back quicker than an older one. And yet, regardless of age, I have found that people recognize that if they have taken even a single week off from engaging in their sport of choice, they have lost a tremendous amount of strength.
These days exercise provides me with a variety of functions. One, it allows me to manage my emotions and give me a sense of calm, balance, and mental clarity. Two, it gives me some fun. While there is definitely work involved, it is my play time. At the end of the day, the reason why I do any of it is to have fun, to do so with friends, and to feel connected to my body. Which leads me to number three. While I may be past the point of trying to show off a fully muscled body at the beach, I am at the point where I am strong and flexible enough to reach down to the bottom drawer in my kitchen without feeling any pain, or petting my small dogs when they greet me at the door when I get home, or being able to do any variety of things in my life without any real aches or pains. While it’s certainly not the only thing that dictates how healthy one is — you can’t just exercise away a poor diet — it definitely improves health overall, and that’s exactly how I feel. Feeling healthy is always going to be more important than looking healthy.
As my Kung Fu teacher, Jackie Yao Wu Hu, likes to remind his students: If there is one thing in your life that you can control, it is your health; for this reason, you must push yourself every day, move every day, and get some happiness out of it if you can help it. You always need to start somewhere. While it can be frustrating after being inactive, once you get going, it can be one of the most empowering things in your life.