Falling Victim to a Deadly Health Mantra

"Get him the f--- up!" Wes Robinson barked. "Drag his ass across the field!"

Robinson was the head athletic trainer of the University of Maryland Terrapins football team. The subject of his scorn was 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who'd collapsed after running 10 110-yard sprints in the hot afternoon sun.

Fifteen days later, on June 13, 2018, McNair was dead. Doctors said he'd suffered complications related to the extreme exhaustion and heatstroke from that football practice. McNair's grieving parents said that was the first time their son had been hospitalized since his birth.

McNair's death drew extensive media attention. But it's not an isolated case...

From 2000 to 2018, he was just one of 22 Division I college football players who died due to overexertion during training. These 22 tragic losses could have easily been avoided by allowing these young men to take breaks when they needed them. But it's hard to tune out coaches and peers who live by a mantra of "no pain, no gain."

That's not my style. And it shouldn't be yours. Even when we know better than to keep up with a college athlete, we can take a lesson from the tragedies on campus football fields.

When I exercise, I do it to benefit my body... not to push my body past its limit.

When I go to spin class, for example, it's because I like the social environment it provides. Knowing that my friends are there motivates me to go.

But while everyone else is keeping pace with the instructor, I'm in the back row doing my own thing. Sometimes I'm reading Wine Business Monthly or Barron's...

The instructors don't pay much attention to me anymore.

And that's because I don't go to class for them. I go for me.

I go to feel invigorated when I'm finished and eager to do it again tomorrow and the next day. Going too fast and injuring myself would be counterproductive.

Today, I'm going to show you how to trust yourself and even get excited by your daily movement routine. I'll discuss how you can make this routine suit you by going at your own pace.

Be Consistent

When it comes to moving your body, consistency is the key to maximizing your health benefits. I have fun exercising, and that keeps me coming back for more.

The benefits of regular exercise are well known. They include helping your brain work better, improving your sleep, and avoiding health issues.

The great thing about exercise is that it's built for absolutely everyone. Even if you haven't exercised in years, you will still reap the benefits as soon as you start.

The trick here, again, is to listen to yourself. What do you want? What do you need? What are your movement goals – and why?

The answers to these questions have to come from you. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks because these are your goals. Own them.

Any amount of movement is better than no movement at all.

A 2015 study published in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology found that participants who used just two minutes of every hour that they spent sitting to do light-intensity activity (like casual walking, light gardening, or cleaning) lowered their risk of dying from health problems caused by sedentary behavior by 33%.

And who wouldn't take two minutes to save their life?

Go at Your Own Pace

Exercise is effective because it makes the body do work to create a positive change. But everyone is different, so the amount and intensity of work your body can tolerate is different from what my body can tolerate.

This is what I mean by going at your own pace.

An activity's intensity level is based on how much oxygen is required to complete the activity.

A light-intensity activity uses roughly twice as much oxygen as what the body requires while sitting at rest. Some light-intensity activities include:

  • Walking slowly around the grocery store
  • Making the bed
  • Preparing food
  • Eating
  • Washing the dishes

A moderate-intensity activity uses approximately three to five times the amount of oxygen than the body uses at rest. When doing an activity of this intensity, you will be able to talk with someone, but you will not be able to sing at the same time. Some moderate-intensity activities include:

  • Walking briskly
  • Sweeping or vacuuming the floor
  • Dancing slowly
  • Washing windows
  • Shooting a basketball
  • Climbing stairs at your normal pace
  • Watering, weeding, or planting in the garden

A high-intensity activity uses six or more times the amount of oxygen than the body at rest. When doing an activity of this intensity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without taking a breath. Some high-intensity activities include:

  • Running faster than 4 miles per hour
  • Swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Climbing stairs faster than your normal pace
  • Speed-walking or walking up a hill
  • Shoveling snow
  • Raking leaves
  • Digging a hole in the garden
  • Carrying a "heavy" load, which varies in weight depending on your level of strength

You have a lot of choices when deciding how you want to move. Whether you're up for a long run or you just want to dig around in your garden. So as you create your daily movement routine, make it fit you.

I really enjoy incorporating yoga into my routine. It combines breathwork, flexibility, and muscle strengthening into one practice that both energizes my body and calms my mind.

So follow your own pace and do it every day.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 18, 2023