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Fat Friends & Couch Potatoes – The lean get leaner and the fat get fatter

If you ask anybody who’s fallen off the fitness wagon why they stopped, the most common response is that they just don’t have time. Interestingly enough this is also one of the most common excuses people use for not working out in the first place. It never ceases to amaze me how many people still use this ridiculous excuse for why they are unwilling to commit to improving their own personal fitness. I understand that you have kids. I understand that you have jobs, but here’s the kicker. Most people who commit long-term to improving their personal fitness have both as well. Excuses are merely obstacles in your mind, they are NOT reasons. Countless people in the circles I travel, myself included, have overcome our obstacles and succeeded in making physical fitness a integral part of our daily lives.

A very recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that roughly 68% of Americans are currently overweight or obese. This study also projects that the number of Americans who are overweight or obese will climb to 75% by the year 2020! That’s 3 out of every 4 Americans! Many developing countries are also experiencing explosive obesity rates, including Mexico, South Africa, and Brazil. Two principal contributing factors to this growing epidemic is the lack of physical activity in our day-to-day lives, and our addiction to convenient, nutrient devoid foods. The opening statistic reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain in which he says “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” The 68% of Americans who are currently overweight or obese is definitely not a majority of which anyone should want to be a member. So what’s with this growing majority of our country? Are they lazy? Are they not paying attention? Are they just too dim-witted to realize that they’re silently killing themselves one super-sized meal and couch-filled evening at a time?  Well, of course it’s complicatedly simple.

Who Has the Time?

“Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.” ~Dion Boucicault

The question that needs to be asked is where are all the people who claim they have no time for working out spending their time? To answer this you need only mull over what the typical topic of discussion is between coworkers on workday mornings. If your place of employment is anything like mine, then the overwhelming answer is still what you watched on TV the night before. “Did you see the new Lost?” “Did you see Modern Family last night?” According to the United States Department of Labor in 2009 the average person spent 2.8 hours/day watching TV. That means that out of the 365 days in a year the average person spent more than 42 days watching TV! That’s more than a month per year!  Despite technological advances such as DVRs that allow people to skip commercials, watching TV has still managed to rein supreme as the activity where people spend a majority of their leisure time. It’s easy to look the math of the situation and say that a person could easily watch TV for say only 1.8 hours per day, and then spend that extra hour working out. Then again numbers are far easier to shift than the paradigms of people who prefer to live their lives predominantly watching the lives of others in HD, rather than embracing and living their own lives to the fullest.

Another major contributor to people’s perceptions that they no longer have the time required to dedicate even a portion of their day to fitness is the current economic recession. People in all areas of the workforce are being asked to do more with less, as companies continue to trim costs in a desperate attempt to keep their businesses afloat. Very often cost cutting measures lead to leaner workforces, which in turn leads to a more hectic work day and longer hours for employees. Jumping ship to seek a position with a less demanding schedule is not really an option in a world with 9.6% unemployment, and Harvard MBAs serving coffee to the masses. Longer hours mean that people are rushing to eat dinner later, which often leads to high calorie foods with low nutritional value. After washing the dishes and cleaning up most have just enough energy to watch a little TV before plopping into bed and waking up to start it all over again.

Are Your Friends, Co-workers, Spouse Making You Fat?

Remember the above statistic above that said that roughly 68% of Americans are overweight or obese? What this means is that if you’re overweight you’re not alone, in fact many of your friends and family members are likely also overweight. A plausible explanation of why it’s SO hard to live a healthier lifestyle is that we’re all but completely trapped in the inertia (or lack there of) of our society’s overfed and inactive lifestyle. Just the other day my company gathered in the lunchroom to indulge in yet another birthday desert, when I was suddenly struck by the realization that I was the only one if a room of about 40 people who was not indulging in the chocolaty goodness.  Following this realization was the slow, creeping feeling of being completely out of place. Everybody else was talking, laughing, and doing little mannerisms with their forks, as some mixed their bowls of cake and ice cream into thick chocolaty goo. And then there was me.  I was sitting there with only my hands! I became acutely aware of my hands at this point. There they were in front of me, but I HAD NO CAKE TO HOLD ON TO! I began wanting cake,  NOT because I was hungry, but because I wanted the comfort of being able to hide in the anonymity that having the cake would provide. It was at this point I was hit with the realization of how easy it is to get caught up in the “bad” behaviors of the people surrounding you. We’d like to think of peer pressure as something we left back in high school, but this experience showed me that though the peer groups change, the pressures remain the same.  Never underestimate the irresponsible caloric indifference of group-think.

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you, … Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.“

~Warren Buffet

A 2009 article in The New York Times interestingly titled “Are Friends Making You Fat?” describes the incredibly interesting findings of two scientists named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. These two scientists utilized information collected in a study called “The Farmingham Study”, which is a study begun in 1948 by the American Heart Association, whose original purpose was to assist in understanding the roots of heart disease. The data for the study was collected via comprehensive physicals performed about every four years on the more than 15,000 Framingham residents, and their descendants. After examining the data from the Farmingham Study Christakis and Fowler say that for the first time they have established a solid foundation for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: “that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses.” This theory proposes that by choosing to travel in social circles where you’re surrounded by happier people making healthy choices, you’re positively reinforcing your own health and happiness. Likewise, if the company you keep consists of depressed and inactive smokers, drinkers, and over-eaters, then you yourself are far more likely to live a depressed and unhealthy life.

A New Path, a New Priority.

“If you want work well done, select a busy man – the other kind has no time.”  ~Elbert Hubbard

If you want to truly commit to fitness and be successful long-term, then you absolutely have to make physical activity and your health a priority in your life. The longevity of your life and the quality of the time you spend with your loved ones absolutely depends on this commitment. Whether it’s getting up just 30 minutes to an hour earlier in the mornings to exercise, or heading over to the gym over your lunch hour, the solutions are truly their if you make fitness a priority instead of something simply on your “to do (someday)” list. Once you’re able to break away from the inertia of the sedentary desk jockey lifestyle, I promise you it does get easier.

One of the best ways to begin and stick with a fitness program is to start your journey with a significant other, friend, co-worker, or in some type of class setting. Many gyms offer a variety of dynamic and enjoyable classes including boot camps, indoor cycling classes, aerobics, and even a variety of dance type classes such as belly dancing. Fitness in groups inspires people to succeed because it makes them accountable for more than just their own fitness, and offers a great source of encouragement and support on the tough days (We ALL have them). If you want to be successful with your fitness goals, an invaluable resource is the ability to socialize with others who share the same goals, or even better yet with those who have successfully achieved goals similar to your own. Another typically free way to build an arsenal of fitness friends is to join online forums or blogs to learn from the experiences of others, as well as to have the opportunity to share your own fitness successes and failures. Remember, according to the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler you are your friends.

This post’s call to action is for you to examine your own life and reflect on whether you’re making fitness a priority. If not, can any of the tools mentioned above assist you in changing your mind, your life, your body? It’s not something that you do if you have time once in awhile when you think about. Yes, I know you have a hectic life, we all do. That’s exactly the reason why it’s so important to make it a priority. If you label and recognize fitness as a priority and you still only have the same 24 hours to get things done in your day, then it ‘s necessary that a less important task or group of tasks will be knocked off your list of priorities. Even if you just dust off the old stationary bike or treadmill and commit to using  it while watching TV for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, you’re taking the first steps toward a better you. Developing a level of comfort with the discomfort of new situations and experiences is a critical part of growing on your fitness journey, and will open your life to challenge after challenge. Make variety the spice of your fitness life and it will ensure that you never get bored. Fitness has transformed my life and enabled me to do things that I never thought possible, and I have no doubt that it can do the same for you.

Own it my friend! Here’s to building lean muscle!


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