How to live

On Exercise

I’ve recently started exercising again after spending the last four months not doing much particularly, and paying for it dearly with an expansion of my stomach.

I hired a personal trainer to ensure that I had someone who would hold me accountable, as well as instruct me on the best practices to reach my goals.

Hiring a personal trainer is not a cheap investment, and neither is a subscription to the gym, as well as purchasing all the clothes required to exercise, and so I sat down and thought carefully about why I wanted to start exercising again, and I realised that getting lean and losing my stomach was only one part it.

I came to the realisation that regular exercise is really of the of the keystones that makes up a good life, and in this essay I want to explain how I reached this conclusion.

Many people far more qualified than I have written very well in regards to the various physiological benefits of exercise, and so I won’t dwell on those.

I believe that we actually have a duty to look after ourselves, because we only have one body to live in during our lives, and it’s a gift. I don’t mean that is it a gift from God (although you are free to believe so), but that is it a gift of chance. Just think of all the people who could have been, but weren’t. All those sexual encounters that didn’t result in children, all those babies that died either shortly before, during, or after their birth. Think of all the seriously mentally and physically handicap people who don’t have the same chances in life as the ones who are lucky enough to have been born with a fully functioning brain and body.

We are all actors in the play of life, and if we are lucky enough not to have been cast as cripples, then we should exercise.

"Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s." Epictetus

We have a duty not to waste this incredible gift.

Living a good life requires a lot of thinking about the world around us, and as well as a deep examination of ourselves. This can only be done by a lucid, healthy mind, and a prerequisite for a healthy mind is a healthy body, as the body is the container that hold our minds.Our bodies are finely tuned machines that are the result of billions of years of evolution, and they are designed to move, a lot.

Our bodies are finely tuned machines that are the result of billions of years of evolution, and they are designed to move, a lot.

We are able to store away in the form of fat large reserves of energy that one can only assume that would be used in either in times of famines or in times of great movement.

Nowadays life is so abstracted that we barely need to move if we want to eat, or even work, and so we must create an artificial environment and reasons for us to move. This means creating goals in regards to our physical shape, our strength, and our stamina, and then following through and reaching these goals.

This is a great exercise not only for the body but also for the mind. I’m fully aware of how difficult it is to keep a regular exercise regime going, and I have failed more times than I can count, but I know that in those times that I did have a regular exercise regime, I felt happier, more serene, and my mind was at it’s sharpest.

We should not be scared or shy away from things that are difficult.

Difficult is good.

If something worth while was easy, then it probably wouldn’t be worth while, and everyone would do it.

The practice of continuous self-improvement needs to be targeted across multiple disciplines, and it must include the prescription for regular exercise.

There is little point in being able to sprout of complex philosophical and ethical arguments, if we are not even able to check our own appetite and overcome our personal laziness. It is easy to get stuck in a rut and believe that philosophy is all about ideas, when in fact it is about action. It is much better to live a life according to your philosophy, that to discuss, or even write about it. Yes, I’m guilty of this.

Epictetus put it nicely when he talks about sticking to your guns when embracing philosophy:

If you have an earnest desire of attaining to philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to be laughed at, to be sneered by the multitude, to hear them say,.” He is returned to us a philosopher all at once,” and “ Whence this supercilious look?” Now, for your part, don’t have a supercilious look indeed; but keep steadily to those things which appear best to you as one appointed by God to this station. For remember that, if you adhere to the same point, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you. But if you are conquered by them, you will incur a double ridicule.

And because exercise can be very tough, it is a great test subject for our minds. When you are doing your last few exercises and your muscles are burning and you have that voice in your head that tell you to stop, that is when you need to draw from your inner reserves and preserve. That is when you are experiencing the benefits of being a true philosopher, and overcoming a true obstacle.

Of course, we shouldn’t make the attainment of a perfect physique or superior strength the most important goal. It should simply be one of many outwards signs of your improved mind. It should end up being something that you do because it is part of you who you are, much like brushing your teeth, or putting on shoes before you leave the house.

The beautiful thing is that to reach this stage, you will need to build a reserve of willpower and self-control, to enable you to consistently exercise, and this will involve a measure of self-sacrifice. The time in a day is limited, and if you spend an hour per day exercising, which is not difficult, especially if you count the time required to prepare beforehand, and shower afterwards, then you need to give up doing something else for an hour, which at the moment you may find more pleasurable.

I’ve spoken before about the need to act like a model citizen, and how that is already a good enough contribution to society. This very same thought is echoed by Epictetus:

Don’t allow such considerations as these distress you. “I will live in dishonour, and be nobody anywhere.” For, if dishonour is an evil, you can no more be involved in any evil by the means of another, than be engaged in anything base. Is it any business of yours, then, to get power, or to be admitted to an entertainment? By no means. How, then, after all, is this a dishonour? And how is it true that you will be nobody anywhere, when you ought to be somebody in those things only which are in your own control, in which you may be of the greatest consequence? “But my friends will be unassisted.” — What do you mean by unassisted? They will not have money from you, nor will you make them Roman citizens. Who told you, then, that these are among the things in our own control, and not the affair of others? And who can give to another the things which he has not himself? “Well, but get them, then, that we too may have a share.” If I can get them with the preservation of my own honour and fidelity and greatness of mind, show me the way and I will get them; but if you require me to lose my own proper good that you may gain what is not good, consider how inequitable and foolish you are. Besides, which would you rather have, a sum of money, or a friend of fidelity and honour? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as far as depends on me, will be unassisted. Here again, what assistance is this you mean? “It will not have porticoes nor baths of your providing.” And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, or a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another citizen of honour and fidelity, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore neither are you yourself useless to it.

As being a member of society that takes responsibility for their own health, you will be less burden on society as a whole, and also, gain a measure of independence from others, which is never a bad thing. Imagine the amount of resources that would be saved, and could be used in better ways, if everyone lived a healthy lifestyle?

Conclusion

So do it, start an exercise routine. My recommendation, especially if you don’t currently exercise, is to take is slow, and start as easy as possible. Remember that the goal is here is not to transform yourself overnight, but to build life-long habits that will serve you right until the day that you die.