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“Quality of life (QOL)” is one’s perceived “position” in life and is a meaningful metric to “manipulate” in the pursuit of happiness.  Some “work” to manipulate this by building relationships, wealth, or a family. All of which will undoubtedly have the potential to move the needle in a positive direction.  Others focus internally on their emotions, spirituality, and/or physical health.  If you are one of the fortunate few who have figured out a way to “optimize” all of these areas, you have hit the “QOL jackpot.”

But if you are like most, there is a tendency to put all of our eggs in just one or two baskets. Time is finite, thus we all must make decisions on who and what takes priority.  For those who gain life satisfaction from relationships, the priority might be social activities. For others the road to the “QOL jackpot” is financial security. And thus career/business activities can work their way to the top of the priority list. If it is building a family, family will come first. If it is physical and mental well-being, then maybe you might be someone who prioritizes time for your spiritual practice or physical exercise.

As I reflect on my own life, I think the “eggs” you choose are different for different seasons. In my 20s, I biased my life toward getting an education and getting a job that paid the bills. I was very focused on finding the “right job,” as I remember firmly believing that would make me happy. So, I spent a lot of time learning the skills that would get the job. Eggs identified; basket filled. Goal accomplished.

I don’t think I am out of step to say we all have a “QOL jackpot”. That thing we think will make us happy; career, family, relationship, body, “health status”, car, house…. “position in life” elevated.

As a physical therapist, a significant component of my job description involves “disease prevention, health promotion, and wellness. That said, I have spent a considerable amount of my waking hours thinking about what motivates people to exercise daily.

I have learned that a daily exercise routine is a no-brainer for some and a resounding no for others.  The data make it clear that a habit of exercise is positively correlated with quality of life. However, my experience reveals a different reality. The people who exercise regularly, get it. Those who don’t exercise or are just starting out, don’t. To the latter group, it appears to be almost negatively correlated with overall quality of life.

When I approach this often-stigmatized topic to the “non-exerciser”,

“I know I should exercise, I just can’t get myself to do it”

“I don’t have time”

“It hurts”

“It’s boring”

“My disability makes exercising impossible”

The other day I was at the gym as I observed a curious scene unfold. A lady seated in a power scooter rolling toward the door from the parking lot. I watched as she struggled to get the door open and the time-consuming check-in process of retrieving her phone from the bag positioned on her lap. She then disappeared into the locker room, never re-emerging into the gym. I smiled, applauding her effort.

As I continued my run on the treadmill, I reflected on the scene that had just unfolded and on my own motivation to spend an hour running on a human hamster wheel with seemingly no destination in sight.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week to decrease one’s risk of health problems. They also mention that it helps with anxiety, sleep, depression, and cognitive function. While all of that might be true, in my humble opinion, these “benefits” are NOT the reason most people have a habit of exercising.

You see, there is a secret about exercising. You can’t lose or fail. All you can do is put points on the board. Whether you walk for 10 min or 60 min, you win. Whether you go to the gym and lift weights or lift a gallon jug 10 times at home, you win.  Whether you felt like doing it or not, if you do it, you win. In fact, doing it when you don’t feel like doing it is a double win. If you know, you know.  If you were here last week, finite games within an infinite game.

As I was leaving the gym that day, out of the corner of my eye a power scooter sitting empty next to the lap pool caught my attention. I stopped and watched as a young man operated a remote as a woman seated on a lift chair rose up out of the water to meet him. The white chair spun around to assume its position next to the empty scooter. The woman wasn’t smiling as she struggled to lift her legs and place them into position to minimize her risk of falling to the cement floor as she exhaustingly used her post-exercise, fatigued arms to move her wet, slippery body back to her scooter.

Getting my dream job was the best thing that could have happened to me in my 20s. It set me up for a career I have loved for over 20 years. But it wasn’t necessarily the day to day job that I am the most grateful for. It was the question out of left field that I was asked at the interview…… “How do you fill your cup?”

It took me a minute to realize this wasn’t the “technical” question I had prepared for. Or the “greatest weakness” or “greatest adversity” answers I had practiced in front of the mirror that morning. No, the question had nothing to do with whether or not I could competently perform my job duties. My future boss wanted to know what I did outside of work that would allow me to be the best version of me when I was “on stage”.

The answer was easy, “I run, bike, and swim….  a lot.”

Finite eggs, one basket. A finite game within an infinite game. Exercise is often difficult and takes time. On top of that, if you are “healthy,” it seems like a waste of time. On the other hand, if you are sick or perceive yourself as “unhealthy”, also a waste of time.

“How do you fill your cup?” I don’t know why I was asked the question or why I was chosen for the position helping people with catastrophic injuries. It is hard for me to believe it was due to my 2 year illustrious career or my conflict-resolution abilities. In hindsite, I now know something I may not have known back then. The days would be long and filled with many heavy stories. Running was a way to lighten the load. Something “controllable” at the end of a day filled with circumstances outside my control.

A daily exercise routine doesn’t require a set amount of time, a specific type, intensity, or location. It also isn’t always meant to be fun, “easy”, or desirable. 

Life is hard and is filled with uncontrollables.  Movement will undoubtedly keep you on the road to the QOL jackpot, sprinkled with moments of happiness that come with a sense of accomplishment.

From the mouth of MLK,  “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Maybe intended as a metaphor but selfishly repurposed as a literal statement.