According to the World Health Organization, “People who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active.” Additionally, a 2021 study published in PLOS ONE found that obese adults spent about $1,800 more in medical bills than the average person, which accounted to over $170 billion annually in the U.S. In fact, health care costs in general have been rising sharply for many years, as they continue to consume a larger share of our budgets.
How can we be obsessed with health and yet increasingly unhealthy? This paradox has led me to conclude that health is a dangerous, debilitating mindset that is undermining our wellness, wealth and strength as a country.
What is health, really? Forget the usual buzzwords like fit, well or sound. Health is the “opposite of sick.” It’s my firm belief that for most of us health is subconsciously, if not consciously, defined as the “absence of disease.”
Given this view of health, you’re “healthy”—barring a sudden, tragic diagnosis like cancer. As a result, we talk about health, eat a few veggies, slip in and out of diets and avoid the doctor—yet make no real change until it’s absolutely necessary.
Consider health in financial terms. You wouldn’t run a business to avoid bankruptcy (i.e. illness) nor aim to earn just enough to get by. That would be crazy. Yet this is precisely what you are doing when you accept “health” as your “good enough” standard for personal well-being.
For those who refuse to settle for “good enough,” there exists a higher state of life. Some know it as “optimal health.” I call it strength.
Although health is the “absence of disease,” strength is the presence of abundant energy and the capacity to be a force in your world. It’s also possessing something extra: the mental, physical and emotional reserve for an extraordinary life. While “health” is like living paycheck to paycheck, strength is money in the bank. Strength is true wealth.
1. Choose strength.
One thing you can be sure of is that life will challenge you, calling upon your strength in ways you cannot imagine. Don’t wait to react to the call—choose to live from strength now. To shift from blindly accepting health to confidently choosing strength is to go from waiting for it to rain to having an ever-present reservoir to draw upon.
Wherever you are along the path of life, you can create a new, higher trajectory—a goal for a life of freedom, strength and abundant energy. A great place to reveal your full potential is through a structured, motivating 12-week “Transformation” challenge, like the one in my book Strength for Life. By consciously forging strength from the inside out, you’ll gain energy, confidence and all the glowing praise that accompanies an amazing body.
2. Reboot, reset, rejuvenate.
Our hectic lifestyle leaves most of us undernourished, energy-depleted, short on sleep and in a compromised state known as “stress.” Add exercise to this and you’re only adding stress to stress. Such was the case with Susan, a woman in her late 30s who was determined to will her way through a 12-week transformation. Problem was, she was working hard, seeing very little—if any—positive impact on her body, feeling drained and bordering on depressed. She was stressed, exhausted and depleted on many levels. Adding an intense exercise program and diet to her already stressed state was pushing her into what’s called a “catabolic state”—in other words, her body was breaking down.
I persuaded her to take two weeks off to rest, recharge and revitalize her body. When she returned I barely recognized her. She was practically a different person, exuberant, positive and shining with energy. She’d added two pounds of lean muscle and produced a measurable drop in body fat percentage. In every way, she was coming back to life.
Just as sleep is essential to your performance today, so is recovery critical to any fitness program that follows. I encourage anyone seeking to transform their fitness to first “reboot their body” with a 12-day total reboot. Eating “lean, clean and green,” getting sleep and balancing your body inside out will nourish your body, mind and soul, bringing you back to strength in just 12 days.
3. Strengthen your body, strengthen your mind.
Maximize your time by stacking the benefits of training your mind and body together. Most people who exercise get a fraction of the potential benefits because they check their minds at the door and just go through the motions.
Find your true strength in your training: Engage your mind, not just your body. Some find this in yoga or martial arts, while others enjoy the benefits of Focus Intensity Training (FIT), the body-mind integrated strength training that focuses your mind while strengthening your body.
Here’s a quick illustration of how dramatically a single FIT technique can transform your training. Take your right arm, extend it out and then contract your biceps as if you’re performing a biceps curl. No big deal, right? Unfortunately, this is the same approach most people take in the gym. Now let’s do it again. This time, however, as you contract your biceps slowly touch your left index finger to the center of your right biceps. Concentrate on a single spot in the center of your biceps muscle, picturing a red-hot marble in this same spot. When you reach the fully contracted position, hold it for about 10 seconds, then release.
Having guided thousands of people through this exercise, I’m familiar with the dramatic difference in the way your biceps feel—when all you’ve done is exchange the unfocused mind for one with focus and intensity.
4. Eat to live.
The food you eat can energize, empower and set you up for success by fueling your strength, or it can cloud your mind and sap your energy. People who live to eat struggle with deprivation, dieting and cravings.
A more effective and enjoyable relationship with food is to eat to live. Rather than eating to stop the hunger and cravings, begin focusing on how your food leaves you feeling for the next one, two or three hours. You will quickly find yourself effortlessly choosing more of the foods that leave you feeling your best.
5. Set a date with your best each year.
Getting fit is a challenge for sure—no rah-rah speeches here. But perpetually staying lean, strong and fit is, for most people, a fantasy. The timeless secret to enjoying your full strength for life is to be at your best, one day a year, year after year. Set an annual date with your best, strongest, most fit self—as you define it—and then document your peak condition with photos and statistics. Be sure your goals are specific, measurable and meaningful. Then, celebrate with a significant self-reward.
6. Share your strength.
The most powerful gift is to share your strength—that which you give away, you gain. And ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Building a reservoir of strength for yourself can get you going, but it’s not going to carry you the distance—nor to the heights that you will discover if you steadily give to and share your strength with others. Your true strength is your capacity to contribute to your friends, family, business and community.
Your body—the only one you will ever have—is the foundation of your life. It’s either an anchor limiting your freedom and potential or a source of radiant energy, vitality and joy, elevating your life and the lives of those around you. It’s your choice. Will yours be a source of strength, from which you will impact the world, or an obstacle, preventing you from reaching your dreams and desires?
My advice to you is to aim high, to aim for strength.
This article was published in October 2008 and has been updated. Photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Shawn Phillips is a fitness expert, author and founder and CEO of Phillips Performance Solutions. His books include ABSolution and Strength for Life: The Fitness Plan for the Rest of Your Life.