October 26, 2021
When asked, “Do you want to live long and grow old?” most people say yes, but with the caveat of not wanting to be sick or otherwise infirm. No one is striving to be back in diapers, incapable of self-bathing, or mentally adrift, yet our choices often contribute more to these potential outcomes than what we say we want.
As with many of my blog topics, I feel invested in this content because I’m no where near immune to the human struggle. When it comes to bodily maintenance, the only accolade I can shoot for is Most Improved.
I was a two-pack a day smoker for years from my late teens into my early 20’s. I’ve loved eating delicious and un-nutritious foods (not mutually exclusive) since I was very young, and I reached the “obese” marker by the time I was 15. I sat on my caboose far more than I did anything active until I was in my mid-20s.
I tried countless diets and dietary supplements – and dangerously at that. I became overrun by anxiety to the point of panic attacks and agoraphobia. I was never a big drinker, but I took any drug that came my way for a number of years in a row.
Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since those decisions and mindsets were simply my default, but even after all the hard work, I genuinely haven’t gotten any better at tying my choices and their consequences to the future.
What’s more troubling for me is that I’ve seen just about all of the potential futures, up close and personal, as I worked with golden agers at various retirement communities from the time I was 17 to nearly 25.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s, strokes, incontinence, inability to swallow, impaired mobility, loss of hearing and vision—you name it and I’m sure I’ve seen, loved, and cared for someone with it.
It was so terribly obvious, too, that each person’s lived experiences with exercise, diet, and lifestyle were directly correlated with their bodily wellness. So incredibly clear – and yet it’s still hard for me, and I imagine many of us, to make decisions now which are motivated by how we’ll look and feel 20 years from now.
Why is that?
Recently, I was listening to an old episode of Farnoosh Torabi’s podcast “So Money” in which her guest cited a study that shows that when humans talk about themselves in the present versus the future, different parts of the brain are doing the thinking.
What’s more interesting (but makes perfect sense) is that the part of our brain that talks about our future self is the same part that would talk about a celebrity, stranger, or any other third party to ourselves. Future you isn’t you at all, according to your mind.
This tracks brilliantly, albeit unfortunately, with our shared difficulties in disciplined territories like diet and exercise, as well as with vices like smoking and drinking. Our brains literally don’t connect the dots when we imagine the states of “elderly,” “feeble,” “immobile,” or “seriously unwell.” We can’t truly picture it, nor can we project the emotions and struggles that would come along with it.
Clearly, successful body maintenance is going to need more support than imagining an ideal beach body, fad dieting, or any given motivation derived from the consequences of our actions and choices.
Thanks to the internet and a renewed culture of health-consciousness, we are more likely than ever to know “the facts” when it comes to body maintenance – and by this, I mean the basics:
These basic facts are really all we need to know and abide by in order to live great and healthy lives, free of excess illness, discomfort, and suffering.
Implementing them is astonishingly difficult and frustrating, however, as many of us know.
If we live our lives exclusively between the past and the near future, we need to be mindful of what we’re doing right now – not in a year or 20 years from now.
Ask yourself in various situations: Am I eating like a healthy person? Am I benefitting my body right now? Am I making the decisions I currently believe to be ideal? Am I doing a good thing for my mind with this choice?
This way of thinking can apply to all aspects of your life in which you logically know long-term goals matter, even if you can’t fully connect with them right now. Finances, diet, exercise, work, family, friends—steps towards literally anything you know you want to achieve or accomplish.
Yes, it will be a shift, and there’s no doubt it will take time and effort. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll fall into the old patterns that your brain has traversed thousands of times before, and that’s normal. Once you realize, you regroup. That’s it. No worrying about what went wrong or what might go wrong. Just go at it again.
We all want the fast and easy way, and it’s not really something to be ashamed of. We’re geared towards survival. We’re primed to evade the bad and seek or maintain the good. To our own detriment, we’re not always honest with ourselves about what “the good” is, however.
The “true good” has been conflated with the “too good,” and we’re often not intentional enough with the present moment. Taking care of yourself requires training your thoughts and your thought patterns so that you’re wholly experiencing what you’re doing as you’re doing it.
What’s the point of spending time with your children if your mind is busy thinking about the laundry that needs to be done, how tomorrow’s schedule is going to look, or when you’re going to be able to go grocery shopping this week?
Why bother having date night with your spouse if, rather than savoring the outstanding meal and the inventive drinks and the rich atmosphere, you’re worrying and complaining about work?
We waste our precious moments and then go to bed feeling frazzled and no more connected or refreshed or inspired than the day before.
Body maintenance is hard, but only because we’re trying to control everything but our own thoughts.
Practices like receiving massage therapy, meditating, exercising, doing yoga, and taking a quiet bath harmoniously supplement learning to be where and when you currently are, which is a large part of why I love them, do them, and advocate them.
That being said, it’s important to remember that living a life of abundance and happiness requires consistent and repetitive practice of shepherding your thoughts, day in and day out, until few and far between find you wandering about the pasture, lost, and missing out on the enjoyment of the world you left behind.
About the author: Muscle Memory Massage
I'm so excited to be opening up shop in Cahaba Heights, supporting our community with relaxation, stress relief, and pain mitigation. I lived in Cahaba Heights when I initially moved to Birmingham 4 years ago, and I felt at home for the first time in a long time. Everything from the pretty neighborhoods and beautiful flowers to Doodles and the friendly faces I came to know stuck with me. After learning a LOT in school and being sincerely surprised by the immense benefits provided by massage therapy, I knew there was no where else I'd rather bring my newfound knowledge and skills to than where my Birmingham adventures began. I love it here, and I hope you'll love me being here, as well!
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