By Michael Krueger
Cost benefit; we have all been involved with that equation at one time or another. It tends to influence nearly every decision we need to make. But do we really analyze the situation at hand, or do we look for reasons to support what we really want to do, no matter the cost?
I Really Want to…
If you have spent any time with children, you have heard the incessant whining that accompanies a thwarted desire. They can focus only on this moment and what they want. Some trainees are like that. They want a particular goal and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, but the “whatever” can include a huge spectrum of options both positive and negative.
On the one hand, you have the person who wants to lose weight and will do whatever it takes so long as it doesn’t include diet or exercise–and all the fat has to be gone by the weekend, or the reunion, or the wedding.
On the other hand, you have the person who works out constantly, takes drugs, or ignores injuries; he too will do whatever it takes to achieve his goal or reassure his ego, even if it destroys his health in the long run.
If I had another hand, you would find the person who exercises progressively and prudently. He/she eats good quality healthful foods and forgoes late nights in favor of a peaceful night’s sleep.
Somewhere in between are the great majority of people who are looking to improve their appearance, strength, and fitness.
Health and Exercise Fads
The price you pay for most fads is primarily monetary. Some people are easy prey for infomercials and are more than willing to whip out a credit card and buy the latest and greatest. This behavior isn’t limited to novice exercisers either. I know more than one experienced lifter who has spent good money on a DVD set that promised success in 90 days. These are sales pitches so slick and so enticing that even those who know better get caught up in the hype.
The secondary price you pay is if you fail to achieve the results you desired and were “promised.” You may feel foolish for buying in or you may be angry that you were taken. Most likely you just file it away with any previous exercise failure. In the long run, this negative internalization is the most costly to you and your possibility of any future fitness success.
Diets are another area where you can easily get caught up in the hype. Someone you know tells you that he lost 5, 10, or more pounds on a diet/meal plan he saw on TV. You look into it to see how it works. Basically you control your eating via the delivery of a bunch of premade meals. Sounds simple enough; they even look tasty and are pitched by a celebrity. Would they lie to you?
Out comes the credit card and soon a pallet of boxes arrives at your door. You excitedly begin the program. You prepare (?) the first meal, notice on removing it from the microwave that the serving size looks awfully small, but you dig in anyway. Soon you are done and realize you ate part of the box and didn’t notice any difference, and you are still hungry to boot. The cost to you is once again mostly monetary, except for the uneasy feeling about having been taken in once again.
Most diet and exercise fads cost you some money and a little time. They aren’t really harmful, and if you think about what you did and why you did it you will learn a valuable lesson regarding impulse control and the perils of late-night TV and a credit card.
Now it’s time to talk about the price paid by those who are impatient with regard to exercise and physical progression. This is where some real and lasting damage can be done.
I know more than a couple of old “Iron Warriors” who are more than happy to talk about the injuries they have accumulated over the years. Some are flat out proud and wear their scars like a badge of honor. I am well aware that in pursuing sport and competitive excellence, it is likely that somewhere along the line you are going to get injured. The problem I have with these guys is that they weren’t so much pursuing excellence as inflating their ego to the exclusion of all else and are now passing it off to unsuspecting newbies as a noble endeavor.
I have gotten into discussions about this and find that most people line up firmly on one side or the other. Either you believe and expect you will get hurt, even reveling in the prospect, or you do whatever you can to avoid injuries while still pursuing your goals with enthusiasm. There doesn’t appear to be much overlap.
If the “injury is inevitable” guys can work out at all anymore, they have limited programs with numerous restrictions because of chronic injuries. They usually work out in public gyms where they have an audience and spend a lot of time giving advice (whether solicited or not) and telling stories. Some of their advice is good and some isn’t. I will admit though that their stories can be entertaining but also a bit sad.
The price they paid was very high indeed. They can no longer fully participate in an activity/sport that they professed to love. Because of this diminished capacity, their overall health has suffered as well.
This behavior is not limited to lifters. I know runners, bikers, and tri-athletes who have done basically the same thing. The will tell great stories of the “sacrifices” they have made for their sport–how they gulped handfuls of Ibuprofen before a competition to mask the pain of tendonitis and then ruptured an Achilles tendon halfway through the race, telling the story in great detail. They, too, wear this like a badge of honor rather than the proof of bad judgment and shortsighted tunnel vision that it is.
Steroid use, overtraining, disordered eating, wasted lives, and disrupted relationships are all the results of not being realistic regarding the cost/benefit of a particular behavior. All of the above costs were incurred in the pursuit of fitness or sports competition. The high cost was because of the perception that the benefit being chased was thought to be worth it. The validity of this equation is something everyone must determine for themselves. Think it out carefully, because you may have to live with the consequences of your decision for the rest of your life. As my father used to say whenever I did something stupid, “Next time, the limp will remind you.”
The Highest Cost, Lowest Benefit
You just read about what I will call “participatory bad judgment” and the high cost of such behavior. Now let’s look at the cost of inactivity.
Sedentary people I have talked to tend to give the same basic answers as to why they don’t exercise. Their excuses include not having the time, not knowing how, it costs too much, it’s too hard, it’s not really necessary, and “I just don’t want to.”
There is no benefit to being sedentary. The cost to the individual and society is huge. The current estimate is that obesity and its attendant Illnesses cost the country in excess of $190,000,000,000.00 per year. These expenses include items such as lost productivity, insurance cost, healthcare costs, diminished capacity, long-term care, depression, and myriad other problems far too numerous to mention here, but all are attributable to a sedentary lifestyle.
The Lowest Cost, Highest Benefit
Every aspect of your life will improve once you decide to make fitness a priority. Most of the changes cost you nothing other than time and effort. These in fact aren’t really costs but rather investments. You are the beneficiary of every bit of effort and every moment of time that you put toward improving your fitness.
Of course, those around you will also reap a peripheral benefit at no cost to you or them, in that you will be a happier and more productive individual. Your performance in all aspects of your life and job will improve. You’ll no longer need someone to “cover for you” simply because you don’t have the energy to fully participate in an activity. You also may not need the medications you are now dependent on and can finally get out from under co-pays and multiple side effects.
Your family, department, and crew mates will see and respond positively to the new you. This will, in turn, help you to maintain and even improve on the positive lifestyle that you have created for yourself. This creates an environment that is encouraging, optimistic, and infectious for everyone involved.
All this is possible because of a little cost/benefit analysis and the outlay of some time and energy. Now that’s an investment that will pay dividends no IRA or pension can match.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.com.