December was a dark month.
I didn’t train once; and by train, I should really clarify what I mean. Us fitness snobs love to differentiate between working out and training because it inflates our elitist muscles. No. I didn’t do fitness once. No sweat, no movement.
To understand why that matters, let’s take a quick detour for some context.
Harvard is a place of many things: brilliant students and faculty, equally impressive student-athletes, a famous statue covered covertly in urine, (don’t rub his foot), and a breadth of history that is hard to comprehend.
What you don’t usually find are the stereotypical meatheads – the dudes closely resembling the “I pick things up and put them down” Planet Fitness cavemen, or our beloved patron saint of serial hydration, who obnoxiously carries around a Poland Springs galloon jug in fear of going 30 minutes without a voluminously clear piss. Cause gains.
Funny thing is, to my friends, and everyone else that knew me at Harvard and still know me today, I’m sure I was associated with all those clichés at one point or another. I was shirtless way too often at parties, would read Mike Robertson’s Bulletproof Knees through class while proudly lugging around my galloon jug, consumed more training books than actual assigned literature, and definitely spent more time in the weight room than a classroom. In case you think I’m kidding…my nickname on the baseball team was Meat.
So yes, I liked lifting weights, but my relationship with the Iron transcended the superficial vanity-chasing process of “getting jacked”. I had found an outlet and a tangible metaphor for my struggles in life. When pain and disappointment came my way, it was a means to violently express myself and divulge all my anguish. It was my panacea and a beacon light to keep me on the right course when the seas got rough.
And then, this December, it was gone.
In truth, I can’t tell you how many times I set my alarm for 5:00 am to finally break the streak and give myself some positive momentum only to find myself a slave to the comfort of the snooze button until I had to finally, begrudgingly, get moving to work.
Pharmaceutical aids, brain drugs if you will, utilized for studying and passing licensing exams, left me with minimally functioning dopamine and androgen receptors. Otherwise not a big deal except dopamine and testosterone (androgen) are the very things that make you want to do things, like take over the world, have sex, work hard.
I had none.
The aftermath was a vast hole of psychological torment, utter mediocrity, and depression that penetrated like a cemented dagger.
Since the dawn of our species millennia ago, we have always been products of our environment. Make it known, however, there is a stark difference between proactively shaping one’s environment and being a passive victim.
I had become a self-inflicted victim to my environment and circumstances, and had morphed into something I always promised myself I wouldn’t be – another zombie cog in the corporate America machine. The Walking Dead isn’t just another television show, divorced from reality. Want proof? Go stand and observe the lifeless souls boarding the train heading into any city on a Monday morning.
We like to preach habits and gradual shifts of behavior as the appropriate means to create lasting change but not this time. I needed to mount a full physiological and psychological assault on the forces that had been shaping my precipitous demise. I needed to bump my rider, shake the elephant and get a entirely new path (a reference for all the Switch fans out there). Whatever jargon you want to use, I needed to get moving.
To dismiss Mr. Maybe, I needed action. I needed to rewire my brain and my habits to create a physiological cascade of fucking awesomeness.
I needed to move.
So I made a commitment (because I hate resolutions) to move everyday in 2016. Every single day I would do some sort of physical activity – including but not limited to lifting weights, running, and playing quidditch.
Because, to quote Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, movement is medicine.
It’s only fitting that I recently finished reading Born to Run and then immediately started to reread The Story of the Human Body.
Both phenomenal books that share a central thesis: we are who we are because we evolved to run.
Let that soak in for a second.
We evolved brains that have allowed us to essentially take over the world because of our ability to run.
Movement is in our DNA. It is so intimately woven into the fabric of who we are that to take it away, to divorce ourselves from our innate passion, is a recipe for catastrophic disaster.
Look around you and see the results of the largest failed experiment in human history.
Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, argues our health problems have manifested because we’ve stopped becoming a running people. While the issues are far more nuanced than that, our lack of movement has played a vital role in our demise.
The rates of obesity are exponentially increasing. We die predominately from diseases of opulence and modernity – heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and staggering amounts of people suffer from depression.
Our biology does not dictate these ends to be inevitable. Death, yes; but diseases of modernity are not fixed manifestations of our DNA at work.
Ido Portal has lead a movement revolution. Not abs or biceps. Movement.
Movement is medicine. It is who you were and it is who you can be again.
Words cannot begin to express the profound difference I have experienced over the last month or so.
Sure, I look better but ultimately that doesn’t matter. The vanity of aesthetics doesn’t matter. Anyone who has gotten in great shape knows it can be a hollow feeling at the end if you solely derive meaning from your looks. Process, not outcome.
My acute depressive state has dissipated. I’ve had worse in magnitude and duration but my mindset and mood have never been greater. Each day, I wake up with my soul ablaze about the potential of the day, a new opportunity to tackle, and any other Elite Daily cliché that you want to throw in there.
I no longer board the train on autopilot amidst the other zombies in corporate America. Instead, my eyes have been opened to the disconnect we experience as humans when we distance ourselves from who we are as a people born to move.
This isn’t some magical placebo effect either.
This is science.
Things change when you exercise – neurotransmitters in your brain (dopamine and serotonin) get up-regulated, stress is reduced, and testosterone elevation are just some of the underlying mechanics of why we experience such a profound sense of well-being when we get back to the basics. Something so simple. So innate.
I challenge you to join me. Move every single day for the rest of the year. Find something you enjoy, whether that be running, yoga, sex, P90X, it really does not matter.
For the time being, forget the aesthetics. The vanity. Commit to moving. It can be 10 minutes or two hours.
I guarantee if you take it upon yourself to undergo this simple change, in a matter of weeks you won’t recognize that person in the mirror. You’ll look better, feel better, and you’ll no longer be a zombie come the Monday morning “grind.”
Because movement is medicine.
P.S. I read every message I get at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear about how you’ve overcome adversity in your past and what you’ve done to keep moving forward.