You know what chaps my hide? The term “muscle head.” Why those of us who hit the gym with gusto on a regular basis get classified as dopey is beyond me.
In fact, my Monday-through-Sunday workout crew are some of the most literate, intelligent folks I know. (And trust me, in my line of work I have the opportunity to meet some extremely smart people.)
They make smart life choices. They eat nourishing, whole foods. They endeavor to help the people around them. They make the most of their lives.
Maybe the general public just choses to focus on those few, misguided gym rats who work out purely for aesthetic purposes—those guys who stand around and stare in the mirror at their pecs all day.
But the lion’s share of us exercise for other reasons.
Why do we work out?
We work out because it makes us healthier—not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
We work out because it makes us part of a community of strong people with whom we can do extraordinary things. We work out because it's fun and makes us better.
I have yet to meet someone who received this same level satisfaction and fulfillment from sitting on the couch watching sports.
Not that there’s anything wrong being the occasional spectator. I’ve watched my share of bowl games—but it’s a form of relaxation and recovery for me, not the main focus of my life.
Simply put, people who exercise aren’t just smart—they’re making themselves smarter. In fact, working out benefits your brain on several levels.
How does working out benefit us?
As explained at length in John Ratey’s book about the intersection of fitness and the brain, Spark (and slightly more succinctly in my new book, The Big Picture) it’s well established that exercise makes you a happier person by boosting levels of the feel-good hormones norepinephrine and serotonin in your brain.
It also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves learning and memory by building stronger connection between neurons.
And new studies show even more benefits.
A 2013 Princeton study in The Journal of Neuroscience shows that exercise can increase the release of GABA, a stress-relieving neurotransmitter that keeps you level-headed and able to make more intelligent choices in difficult situations.
You "slow twitch" athletes get brain-boosting benefits too.
Another recent report appearing in The Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found that aerobic exercise has an array of brain-sharpening benefits for folks ranging from school kids to older adults.
Get Healthy - Make Friends
Another great thing about exercise is that it tends to be a social activity.
I know this sounds a little strange coming from a guy who made a name for himself with in-home exercise products like P90X, P90X2, P90X3, and 10 Minute Trainer, but these programs were never intended to turn you into a fitness hermit.
They’re intended to improve your body, inform your mind, and inspire your spirit, putting you in a position to get out there and try new activities; meet new, interesting people; and make the most of this bag of muscles, tendons, blood, and bones we call the human body.
They’re indoor training for the outside world.
Gain Strength: Mentally and Physically
Strive for emotional and mental improvements in addition to physical ones, and then take the whole package out into the world so that you can make the most of your life while improving the lives of others.
If you do, you’ll start to understand what The Big Picture is all about. It’s about taking the fitness and nutrition lessons us “muscle heads” have already learned and applying them the rest of your life.
For example, we all know the value of pushing our bodies to crank out that one, extra rep; that one, extra pull-up; that extra five-minutes on the track.
But are you digging deeper mentally and emotionally, applying that same intensity to your relationships or your career? I guarantee that when you go big in other aspects of your life, people will notice—and then they’re inspired to go big, too.
Balance is Key
For those of you who already have intensity mastered, how’s your balance?
I’m not talking about how to walk on a slackline or workout on a BOSU ball. I'm hoping you already balance aerobic/anaerobic sessions and upper/lower body workouts.
But what about the rest of your life? Are you giving yourself enough down time? How’s work balancing with play? Are you managing gym time with family time?
There's an easy fix that you can implement with the same, basic tools you use to stay physically healthy and keep your diet in check.
(Hint: if you need a little guidance on this one, it’s all in my new book.)
The more I think about it, the less the term “muscle head” bothers me.
The brain may not be a muscle, but it certainly acts like one.
It gets stronger the more you use it and if you treat it right with proper fitness and nutrition, it prospers and allows you to do amazing things.
Proud to be a Muscle Head
So, yes, I am a muscle head. I’m saying it loud and proud! I take care of my body and my mind and I do my best to use them both to their full potential.
So get out there! Do your best and forget the rest, my fellow muscle heads.
There’s a whole world waiting for you. The Big Picture awaits.