It’s that simple. In today’s COVID19 focused world, health and wellbeing are on the top of our minds more than ever. Perhaps that’s the silver lining of this pandemic, the renewed focus on health and wellbeing. We want to feel good and live a long, happy, strong and healthy life. And exercise, that no-cost, do anywhere at any time, side-effect free activity, has become established by medical science as an essential step on the clear pathway to get us there. 

The problem seems to be moving ourselves onto that pathway. Less than 23 percent of American adults meet physical activity guidelines, according to the most recent research data from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. And what are those guidelines? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity every week.

 Dan Buettner, an explorer, National Geographic fellow and journalist, has made his life’s work the study of “Blue Zones” – communities with extraordinary longevity and a high “happiness” index. One key common factor he’s found is natural movement that is integrated into daily life. “In America, the notion of exercise has been an unmitigated public health failure. We continue to hound people to get exercise, but fewer than 20% get the minimum 30 minutes a day,” Buettner said during a Global Wellness summit.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise can be a valuable contributor to weight management. It can also be a powerful aid in helping prevent, and if not, reducing the impact of stroke, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety, many types of cancer, arthritis, falls, cognitive functioning and longevity. It can help provide restorative sleep, provides opportunity for socialization and can enhance your sex life. Not a bad tradeoff for a half hour a day or so of physical activity, right? Of course, I’ll add the required caution to remember to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, especially if you have any concerns about your physical abilities, haven’t exercised for a long time, or have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis. 

Walter Bortz, II, MD, one of America’s leading voices in longevity health and wellness, noted in his famed “Dare to Be 100”, “Three hours of life can be gained for every hour spent exercising—a good bargain, no?” Add to this, Dr. Keshia Pollack Porter of Johns Hopkins who observed, “For every hour you walk, you can add an hour to expected healthy lifespan; for every hour you sit in a car, subtract.” Whichever it is, one hour, three hours, it’s a good deal.

Research has also demonstrated that negative emotions are appreciably less prevalent among those who do one thing in particular: follow the 45 minute rule.  Yep, that rule says 45 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day, or about 80 minutes of moderate activity daily, offset the psychological burden and negative emotions caused by many of these factors.

And remember that in the longest living centers on earth, in the “Blue Zones,” people don’t exercise purposefully by going to the gym, though of course some do. Instead, physical activity is largely built into their daily lives through gardening, walking, cooking and other daily chores. Indeed, Harvard physician Paul Dudley White, the ‘father of American cardiology,’ believed that a brisk, five mile walk every day is “as good a remedy for a restless mind as anything the worlds of medicine and psychology have to offer.” Dan Buettner urges, “To avoid all disease, especially chronic disease, even infectious disease, follow these rules: surround yourself with people you enjoy being with; eat mostly plant-based foods; have a sense of purpose in the way you live, work, play; live in a place and work in a place where you are constantly nudged, moving more, eating less junk food and processed food, socializing more, and living on your feet.”

Get Moving…It’s Your Health

Mark Twain wasn’t necessarily attempting to motivate people to exercise when he said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started,” but he may well have been. Knowing what motivates, or de-motivates, you to exercise is more important than knowing the right athletic shoes to purchase for your feet or remembering the combination to your gym locker door.  Without understanding your motivation to begin exercising and to adhere to your program, you just won’t do it. 

Alas, we are just fallible human beings and from time to time we are guilty of irrational, illogical, and inaccurate thinking, especially when it comes to physical activity, even though we know that exercise is health.  Words like “never,” “always,” “should,” “impossible,” and “can’t” are tip-offs of irrational, obstacle-creating, limiting thinking. When you tell yourself, “I know that I should be more active, but I can’t stand exercising, and hate doing it,” do you hear how negatively focused you’ve tuned your mindset? Filled with such harmful, damaging, and discouraging words?

For example, you’ve said, or heard, “I don’t have time to exercise!!!”  You need what cognitive-behavior science calls a response counter.  How about thinking “I can always find time.” It only takes 1/48th of your whole day to exercise for 30 minutes, isn’t that worth improving your health?

“I can’t make it to the gym today—I just don’t feel like it.” The response counter is “I know once I get to the gym or wherever I exercise, I’ll feel better.  I can do it!”

“I’m bored by the same old routines.”  The response counter? “I can find a way to avoid boredom by changing up my routine—why not try Les Mills, Total Gym, Zumba, TRX, the Lebert System, Pilates?”  My response counter to this is “Who says I can’t tolerate a little boredom?”

“I can’t run that far or lift that much weight.” The response counter to this might be, “I can’t lift that much weight, yet (or run that long, yet), but I can do this level instead and work up to that level.”

“It’s too hot to do bootcamp today,” or “It’s too cool or windy.”  And what might be the response counter?  “I can workout indoors today,” or, “I can take off – or put on – a layer of clothes.”

Get it?  Every negative, irrational (inaccurate) thought you automatically create requires a response counter to move you forward. Otherwise, you are building a sandcastle and living in it. Telling yourself, “I’m an active, healthy person,” is that all-important step towards living that way daily. 

It’s time to make time for your health and wellbeing. Those are top-of-mind issues in front of so many today as we, together, face the pandemic of COVID19. And those goals, more than six-packs, being “shredded,” or having a “bikini bod,” health and wellbeing, are far more important to us. Which is why it’s important to keep the idea that “exercise is health” front and center.

The New Model: Exercise is Health

At the 33rd Annual International Convention and Trade show of IHRSA back in 2014 in San Diego, I urged my colleagues in a presentation I did, to disrupt, lead and turn the page past the then, and still current model, of the gym in order to begin creating “Optimal Health Centers.” This is anchored in my notion that “exercise is health.”

In his must-read book, Next Medicine: The Science and Civics of Health, Walter Bortz, II, M.D. observed that the “Financial interests of biotech and drug companies have eroded the values of the medical profession and placed profit before human well-being.” Dr. Bortz noted, “Heart disease, for example, is widely treated with drug interventions and invasive surgery…But daily exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent heart disease and can be obtained by patients for free.”

It’s high time today’s leading-edge fit-health professionals, gym owners, health coaches, physicians, physical therapists, nutritionists and dieticians, nurse practitioners,  massage and acupuncture therapists, Yoga and Pilates instructors, psychologists, chiropractors, pharmacists, and others in the healthcare continuum blend together, work together, collaboratively, equally, and create Optimal Health Centers available to all – in one setting, under the umbrella of one organization for easy access for members. It’s time to promote “convergence fitness,” health and wellbeing in a safe, comfortable manner, with health justice for all. 

These centers would promote with single-minded passion, full soundness in body, mind and spirit, with freedom from physical disease and pain. Prevention, not treatment. After all, “exercise is health.”

I believe this sophisticated, forward-driving integrative approach is a key element in the future of the gym industry, staffed with fit-health pros who are committed to creating a new playbook for sustainable health, dedicated to practicing at the cutting-edge of convergence science and health, who are prepared to work collaboratively with a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare providers to offer much more than yesterday’s fitness center programming.

The Optimal Health Center as I and many others envision it, focuses on helping all create proper nutrition, physical activity, mental/emotional wellbeing, recuperative sleep and relaxation, proper focus on preventive health care, healthy relationships, continuous renewal, and spiritual balance. Many of these “medical-fitness” facilities exist today throughout America, but we need more. As a long-time Advisor to the Medical Wellness Association, the recognized international leader for medical wellness  professionals, best practices, programs, research, education, training and services, it’s clear to me the time for convergence fitness-health is upon us.

This goes beyond today’s gym, focusing on six pack abs, blasting biceps and simple DIEts. This points to the full wheel of optimal health for all. I believe today’s well-educated fitness-health professionals provide essential service in the healthcare continuum and will lead, be frontrunners, and true trailblazers in this initiative of promoting “exercise as health.” It takes teamwork, focus and putting the health of our nation before profit. This is surely the biggest challenge. Today’s fit-health pros anchor their health service in a person-centered approach, with attention to quality, partnership and compassion. 

Remember that in the end it’s how you talk with yourself, think of yourself and define yourself.  If you think you are “not worthy” of living with more health, or are not “the type” to exercise, are “unable” to, you need to bring logical, more accurate and rational response counters along with your towel and water bottle with you when you get moving. My mantra is, “be active, not too much, every day.” Here’s to a long, healthy and strong life! 

This column was written by Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.