Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is The Training Lifestyle Selfish?

If you're reading this blog and you're interested in improving, or even excelling, as a martial artist, or any kind of athlete, I bet the thought has crossed your mind that your lifestyle is selfish.  Maybe you thought it yourself, or maybe someone close to you said you were being selfish.  Why would this thought occur?

You're probably spending time exercising that you could be spending doing something for other people (like caring for children or doing household chores).  You might be spending time, effort, and money investing in paleo friendly food to eat instead of cheap junk that's more filling.  You might be eating differently from the rest of your family to be healthy, which is increasing the work put into cooking, dishes to be washed, etc.  You might insist on getting eight or more solid hours of sleep instead of staying up late socializing.  You might be spending time and energy reading about nutrition and training instead of spending it with friends or family.

Is this behavior, this lifestyle, selfish?  We could certainly argue that it is somewhat self-centered - that is, you're spending time and attention on yourself.  But you're not the only one who benefits from your lifestyle - there are plenty of indirect benefits that your loved ones can enjoy.

First, being in good shape will undoubtedly increase your functional lifespan.  We can argue all day long about whether lean, athletic people actually live longer, but there is no doubt you'll have more years of being alive and capable of doing stuff - like playing with your grandkids and having good sex, as oppposed to spending your days institutionalized, sitting in a wheelchair and staring at the wall.

Being fit and healthy makes you more patient.  Karate is moving meditation - it clears your head, calms the spirit, and makes you a better friend and a better relative (spouse, parent, whatever).  Exercise in general makes you feel good, and when people feel good they tend to be less irritable, less violent, and better to be around.

Being fit and healthy makes you better in bed.  One or more people close to you can benefit from your improved sexual abilities.

Being fit and healthy makes you a good role model for others close to you.  You might be spending less time with your kids, but the fact that your kids see you  make exercise an integral part of your daily routine is sure to help inspire them to do the same, which will continually enrich their lives.  This doesn't always work - I know of situations where family members reject everything about the fitness lifestyle, as if to spite the person who is in shape - but that's usually a sign of a dysfunctional relationship.

Being fit and healthy may wind up giving you more energy than it takes away.  In many cases you're feeling better, and accomplishing more good with your limited time spent with family members than you would feeling lethargic and having plenty of time.  For example, if you're taking care of your kids, being an engaged, attentive parent for two hours at night might do them more good than being an irritated, inattentive parent for three hours.

Let's imagine for a minute that you're not swayed by my "indirect benefits" argument.  Let's think of this another way.  Suppose you had a bad stomachache and told your spouse/ friend that you were going to see the doctor to get checked out.  Do you think that person would call you selfish for spending that time and money on yourself, or would they be glad you were taking care of yourself?  Do people think you are selfish for brushing your teeth?  Sleeping?  Drinking and eating adequately?  Of course not.  All those activities are directed at yourself - you brush your own teeth - but aren't therefore selfish.  Every capable adult needs to take care of themselves in order to be a functional member of society.  It's like the oxygen mask in an airplane - you put it on yourself first, not to be selfish, but to make sure you stay conscious long enough to take care of the kid sitting next to you.

The reality is that an hour a day of exercise and some time spent shopping for, preparing, and cooking nutritious food and some time spent learning about nutrition and exercise should be considered just as normal a part of life as brushing your teeth or seeing a doctor when you're sick.  A hundred years ago people didn't need to do this - they did manual labor on their farm or whatever to stay in shape and they didn't have to fight to stay away from Doritos and Diet Coke because those things weren't widely available - all their food was fairly high quality.  In our society we have to put work into maintaining ourselves the way our ancestors didn't. 

For another analogy, imagine you  moved to a colony on Mars.  You'd have to spend time every day ensuring your air supply was functioning properly.  That woudn't be a selfish investment of time; it would be a necessary part of what you'd have to do to stay healthy in an unusual environment.  We live in an unusual environment (from an biological/ evolutionary perspective) and deliberate exercise and food prep are part of what we need to maintain ourselves within it.

Now I am quite certain that there are people who can take this lifestyle to an extreme that is, in fact, selfish.  If you train, cook, and read books and blogs to the point where you refuse to do any household chores or spend time with your wife and/or kids, then you're being selfish.  If you train an hour a day but expect your partner to skip training so he/she can cook for you and clean the house, you're being selfish. 

But don't ever feel bad for taking a reasonable amount of time out of your day and using it to keep yourself healthy.  You deserve it, and your friends and family deserve to have a healthy, happy, and sane version of you in their lives.


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