“Please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”
Aside from the airline safety reference, this phrase is practically cliché as a metaphor for taking care of yourself before others. For the purpose of airline safety, they know that a parent without oxygen won’t be much use to a child. Still, when we think about helping ourselves before assisting others, we may get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs. We may draw an association with selfishness. Of course, we want to save our loved ones first. That’s why we get the instructions. The oxygen mask speech reminds us that sometimes we simply have to help ourselves first.
From a metaphoric standpoint, it’s really rough for some of us to “make time for ourselves.” Because as a society we haven’t fully transitioned to making fitness an essential, we often think of fitness as an extra, something whose only purpose is to take time for ourselves.
We still think of exercise as an “extra.” Not a necessity. Something we do so we can wear skinny jeans, or a sexy dress, or maybe nothing on Fire Island. Some people think of working out as an act of selfishness because of the commitment of time and money.
But aside from the emotional and aesthetic gratification, could it be that we are actually providing something for our loved ones by engaging in regular exercise?
For many of us, our jobs and our lives have us sitting for long periods of time. If we choose to take the time to pursue some sort of fitness program, we have to make the time. And, even harder sometimes, we have to take the time. We are already stretched sooo thin, and now we feel bad about the fact that we won’t have that hour or two with family. Or we feel we should be working the extra hours. So, exercise gets moved to the bottom of the list, and sometimes we just don’t train. Although we know exercising will make us better, we guilt ourselves out of it.
With a new year rapidly approaching, I challenge you to ask yourself this question:
“Whose lives will be better if I am fit this year?”
Who will be served by your being stronger?
How will the lives of your loved ones improve when you are stronger. Not just feeling stronger, but actually physically stronger. Will it be easier to hold a baby? Walk a dog? Carry groceries?
Who will benefit from your ability to move better?
Whose lives will be better when you are able to participate in sitting on the floor, playing with kids (or adults!). Will you be able to take more bike rides? Play volleyball on the beach? Will dancing be better? Will sex be better?
All of these things are affected by quality of movement. All of them.
Who will feel less stress when you feel less stress?
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.” – Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
Studies have shown that exercise reduces stress. Can we agree that when you’re less stressed, you’re more available for your job, your family, your friends? Who won’t benefit from your being in a better mood?!
Exercise can help boost immunity
Who will benefit from your catching fewer colds? When you are healthier, will you be more available to everyone in your life? Family? Friends? Coworkers? Lovers?
After the age 50, bone density becomes an issue for some. Lifting weights is great for bone density! Which is good for not breaking bones. Which is great for being there for everyone.
This may be the most important reason, especially for those of us who desperately want to be “unselfish.” When you make fitness and movement an integral part of your life, you are living strength and movement by example. Serving as an excellent example is not just important to those with small children. We are all dynamic examples of how we live. It may seem like no one is really paying attention. But they are. The information is being stored somewhere in the recesses of, “I want to be like that.” In the case of parents, how you live your life is the most powerful legacy you give to your children. Talk is just talk. When you teach them that beautiful movement is something you appreciate for yourself, they will be more likely to incorporate it as part of their own experience as adults.
As for your friends, family, adult children—living the example of a person who incorporates movement into their lives at whatever age you are can inspire friends to do the same. Is there a better gift to give?
The next time you are thinking about how to you can give more of yourself to the people in your life, maybe something you thought of as the ultimate act of selfishness could turn out be most generous thing you could do for those in your life this year…and always.