Respect your physicality
I turned twenty-nine a few days ago. It’s a funny age, 29, because it’s the age just before the ‘big one’, and don’t people let you know it! Suddenly that ‘thirty things to do before thirty’ list that keeps popping up on your newsfeed becomes a bit sharper in your focus, and you start revisiting all your naïve teenage fantasies of what life on the precipice of 30 would be like.
Well for me, turning twenty-nine was just another day: I went to work, I had a nice cake, I went to the gym. And in was in there, the gym, my base point for so many years, where I realised something.
After over ten years of almost unbroken gymming, lifting, sweating and slogging, I’m getting very close to my physical peak.
The problem with modern life is that a) it’s always super busy and b) it’s designed to be distracting. You never stop and think about the moment, because if you did that then you’d stop lusting after the next thing. Capitalism thrives upon you thinking about what you want next, and making you feel inadequate for not having it: that’s how stuff keeps getting sold.
But it was slightly unnerving at first to suddenly realise I was almost thirty. And before anyone over thirty starts moaning I don’t mean in the sense that I think I’m old. I’m not. But from an athletic and performance standpoint it’s unnerving to think that pretty soon I’m going to be plateauing and then physically declining. My natural testosterone levels are going to start to drop in my early thirties. Less testosterone means less muscle, less strength and ultimately that the days of setting personal records, at least in terms of strength and muscle, will be over. Forever.
And that is as sobering a thought for me as I’ve ever had. Because my life up to now has been so entwined with the pursuit of more performance in the gym I can’t really imagine a day or a world where I know I can’t really improve. That I can try as hard as I want but my numbers will start to go down. That I can follow all the rules and still lose what I’ve been working at for about 15 years.
It should be depressing to think on all this. As my dad sometimes says when we have these conversations about mortality and how quickly life can be taken from us he doesn’t think it’s healthy for a young person to be ruminating on such things.
But I wholeheartedly disagree. It’s thoughts and realisations like that that make us active, rather than reactive. The acknowledgement of time passing makes us urgent and appreciative. It’s a thought process like that that has made me sharply turn my entire life through a corner and commit to doing things that make me happy, right now.
It’s all too easy to sound either flippant or idealistic when you speak about living for the moment, and I’m not talking about just giving stuff up or throwing your future to the wind for the sake of immediate gratification. What I am saying is that you can be stood on or near the top of the mountain without ever noticing the view.
It says it all about the world that we live in that something so fundamental as your health is given such short shrift. People will, and literally do, sacrifice their health and their best physical years in the pursuit of material goods that they will throw away and replace.
I’m twenty-nine years old. In a few short years I will never be able to lift more, or jump higher or run faster than I do now. Every session will be running harder and harder to stay still. Whatever athletic or physical heights I hit in muscle and strength goals I will never beat, as long as I stay natural and off performance enhancing drugs.
That’s what I told myself on my birthday in the gym.
So what now? What do I do with that realisation? I started by putting more effort into the session. Then I decided that every session from now on was more important than the last, because every session is now closing the window on the time I can be as good as I can ever be.
Am I depressed with these thoughts? No, I’m liberated, and happy, because I know I can’t give myself any excuse for not getting the best out of my best years. I’m going to try and fly as close to my potential that I can, because in twenty years time, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I will never be able to be the physical specimen I am now, or will be in the next few years.
Forget about carpe diem or Instagram inspirational quotes. If that thought can’t motivate me, nothing can.
By the way, I’m obviously only talking about peaking physically. Just remember that no matter how much money you have or what you achieve later in life, you can’t swap any of it for the time when you were the age you are right now. The time when you could run fast, jump high and be as strong as you ever will be.
Move every damn day, and embrace your physicality. Forever means forever.