One of my close friends once defined physical health as a measure of how alive you are. Although his take on the matter may seem oversimplified, it is not too far from the truth.
Though it can be difficult to see it at a young age, physical conditioning is crucial to a sustainable lifestyle that extends into our later years. Weight training can keep you out of a nursing home. Cardiovascular exercise can keep you alive.
One look around modern America leaves me with a disturbingly bleak image of our priorities. We are not made to stagnate and eat carbohydrate-rich diets until we hit 40 and decide to do something about it.
Long story short, exercise shouldn't be a chore you sometimes manage to do when you're not too tired and you don't have too much homework. It should be part of your everyday lifestyle. That being said, it doesn't have to be miserable.
If you are a student at the University of Tennessee, you live in one of the most beautiful outdoor environments on the planet. Five minutes from campus is a flooded marble quarry you can swim in. Another five and you're on a mountain biking trail. Now, not everyone can be jumping onto a mountain bike just yet. (Although if you are interested in mountain biking, the UT Outdoors Program offers free trips every Friday after class. Or email me and I'll take you). If exercise does happen to be miserable at the moment, and sustained physical activity seems unattainable, then you have to start small.
Building a lifestyle starts with adjusting small habits.
First, never ride the bus to class. You don't need to. The bus is slower than walking anyway. I've timed it.
By the time you've hit your senior year, you should have calves of steel without even trying. You live in the mountains. Be a mountain man – or mountain woman – by the time you leave. Take the stairs to your dorm, walk to the strip, and carry those hundred pound backpacks to the library. Show up to class sweaty.
The second aspect of any healthy lifestyle is diet. Diets don't have to be extreme either. My terrible stomach actually forced me into a new diet sophomore year. All I did was cut out soda and fried food. I still ate pizza sometimes; I still drank beer too often. I just gravitated away from fast food, a decision that allowed me to lose 20 pounds in one semester without trying.
If you ever want a reason to stop drinking soda, check out a website called sugarstacks.com. If you wouldn't sit down and eat 16.5 sugar cubes, don't drink a bottle of coke. Instead drink water as often as possible.
Try getting the flatbread at Subway instead of whatever cheesy-pseudo-Italian garbage they're advertising. Try eating your poultry grilled instead of smothered in bread crumbs and drowned in oil. Three months into my fast food fasting, the smell of French fries began to make me nauseous. It's amazing what you can train your body off of with little to no effort.
The last and honestly most important thing to remember is your mindset – you need to do these things because you love your body. Your body is the only way you experience the physical world around you. Your body is the reason you get to feel emotions, and see movies and get from point A to point B to eat. Your body is the single most beautifully complex biological machine in the known universe. Fate just handed you the Bugatti of evolution, and it's up to you to take care of it.
Fuel it well; start today. Tomorrow never comes.
Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached at email@example.com.