“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”
Jack LaLane, an American fitness guru, died Sunday afternoon at 96 years old and left behind a legacy, motivating millions of people since his first gym in 1936. This is a man who lived and loved his passion for health and fitness for more than 75 years.
So, how does his life relate to writing? I’m glad you asked. Because Jack LaLane’s “use it or lose it” and “it’s never too late” philosophies can be directly applied to your life as a writer.
Let me count the ways:
1. If you take care of your wellness by keeping an active lifestyle…
You live longer, with a better quality of life, and you can write more! This is something that has hit close to home recently. As I write this blog post, I can feel my back brace hugging my squishy muffin top. But that feeling, as restrictive and uncomfortable as it is, sure beats being flat on my back for a week, alternating between screaming like a wounded animal with every passing spasm and lying nearly comatose from a tablet cocktail of Motrin, Flexeril, Percocet, and Zanax. How did I end up like this? One word: atrophy.
Over the last ten years that I’ve been writing, my activity level has dropped considerably and I’ve become sedentary—hour-after-hour, day-after-day, I sit at the computer. At one point, I put on a pedometer, just to see how much I moved in a day. I discovered that on some days I walk less than 200 steps. What has that done to me? My weight has increased by 30 lbs. and my muscles have lost tone, strength, and flexibility. How did I hurt my back? I spent six hours in the mall doing Christmas returns. How embarrassing is that?! I wish I could say: While cycling during the eighty-seventh mile of a triathlon, my wheel came off my bike and I crashed into a tree. That would be a much better reason to be in a back brace.
Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I don’t have to train for a triathlon, but I do need to make exercise a priority and a regular part of my daily routine, not use it as a reward when I get my computer work done. Because it’s never done. There will always be another chapter/article/interview/manuscript to write/edit/publish/promote.
2. If you keep your mind sharp…
You can continue to write until you take your last breath. Ok, so obviously the body needs exercise, but so does the brain. While spending time in South Florida, a retirement landscape of aluminum walkers, I had the opportunity to people-watch in a completely different demographic than the helicopter-mom/Hummer3 set in The OC beach suburbia in California. And, after observing the locals, I can’t decide which is more scary: having a sharp mind trapped in a decaying, shrinky-dink body, or having an atrophied raisin-brain in an old, but functional body.
The thought of being in either condition in my golden years scares the crap outta me. I mean, I’ve had my share of raisin-brain days lately, but I think that’s because I’ve stopped doing something I’ve done every year for the last 20+ years: take classes to learn something new. I’ve always been an education and information junkie and in addition to countless craft-of-writing classes, I’ve taken classes to learn Photoshop, Tai Chi, kickboxing, archery, picture framing, knitting, bellydancing, henna tattooing, beading, tole painting, stand-up comedy, improv, American Sign Language, Italian, Zumba, and djembe drumming. Mental deterioration happens the same way muscles become atrophied.
Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I think it’s all part of finding balance in life—making time to learn something new, different, interesting. I used to sit down with a highlighter as soon as the community education brochure came in the mail and mark all the classes I wanted to take. It’s not a luxury, for long-term mental health, it’s necessary.
3. If you let your muse out to play…
She will continue to create. But if you neglect her, your creativity will weaken just as significantly as any other muscle. Sadly, this I know. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it has taken me to write this blog post. If you guessed more than an hour, keep guessing (and multiply that hour by four). I’ve never been a fast writer. My internal editor edits and re-edits every sentence before moving on to the next. But when I was working on The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, I’d get into “The Zone”—that place where my husband kisses my forehead in the morning and goes off to work, then returns later to find me unshowered, still in pjs, still writing, and I say, “Oh, you came home for lunch?” and he replies, “It’s dinnertime.” It’s been years since I’ve exercised my creative muscles (writing articles and interviews, editing and teaching don’t count to my muse).
Jack was right: Use it or lose it. The worst thing a writer can lose is her creative flow. It circles back to finding balance again. Move. Learn. Create. All three are equally important and need equal attention.
When it comes down to it, Jack LaLane was right. It’s never too late to take care of your body, mind, and soul. He has proven that if you take care of yourself and pursue your passion—both lead to a long and happy life.