The shockingly valuable life lessons of vigorous exercise

March 9, 2017 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Fitness, Habits, Tips

With five Ivy League degrees, especially the PhD in astrophysics, experience teaching at Ivy League and other elite schools, and a father who was a tenured professor in history, I think I’m qualified to know the value of intellectual knowledge.

The more I learn through physical experience, the more valuable I find it.

The intellectual world, especially schools and universities, value the intellect so much, I don’t think they realize the value of learning through experience, especially vigorous exercise.

Case 1, superfically: deadlift form

The other day my physical trainer friend was over. I asked him to evaluate my form on a few exercises. He pointed out that on my kettle bell deadlift, my right knee went inward. It’s a common mistake, but the relevance to me is that I’ve known since I played ultimate frisbee, starting in the 90s, that my knee moved that way and that it probably shouldn’t.

Note the pattern:

  • Doing something I suspected wasn’t how the best do it, but ignoring the problem, hoping it wasn’t that big a deal

As a result:

  • I couldn’t reach my potential


  • I have to unlearn a habit I’ve practiced for decades
  • I’m awakening the main muscles I’ve meant to train all along.

It feels weird to do something for the first time at age 45.

Case 2, deeper

How many things in life do you cheat on, knowing you aren’t doing it how you want but not fixing it because you figure no one notices but you know, however subconsciously, that you should do it differently. You’re suppressing and denying—in other words, lowering your self-awareness.

What I described about lifting form could apply to any habit—related to the body or mind, if there’s a difference.

You may not realize it, but doing anything with your form out of control makes you look and act out of control. How many habits are you doing out of control, compensating all over for a fundamental problem you aren’t facing and resolving?

Case 2, next steps

Now I’m practicing getting my form as I want it. I’ve had to drop the weight I’m lifting twice, to nearly half what I was lifting before. Plus I lose my balance more. I look and feel clumsy and out of control.

Still, getting your form right is more important than increasing your weight for long-term growth. Pride doesn’t make you strong. Practice with effective form does.

The same follows when practicing any exercise, including leadership exercises, entrepreneurship exercises, and all the exercises I teach in my courses.

Case 2, walking counts

A couple weeks ago I ate a less-healthy lunch than usual so decided to walk to a friend’s party on the upper west side instead of taking the subway, which was about a 3.5 mile walk (to the party where my book was on the shelf).

When I was younger, running a few miles fast might make me sore the next day, but walking a few miles didn’t count as exercise. No amount of walking would make me sore or fatigued enough to notice it the next day.

Walking to this party made me realize that walking counts now. That is, I can feel when I walked the day before. I guess the fatigue is a function of my age—a rite of passage into middle age, like needing reading glasses.

So that’s where I am. Walking counts.

Anyway, I’m not sure my writing conveyed the intellectual and emotional challenge and growth that vigorous exercise gives you that mere intellectual exercise like traditional educational exercise doesn’t.

Viewing the body and mind as separate is probably the first mistake–one that schools increasingly start with, as they take gym, vocational work, recess, diet, sports, playing music, and practicing instruments out of the curriculum.

I’m increasingly seeing them as more valuable than analytical, factual recall-based intellectual classroom work.

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1 response to “The shockingly valuable life lessons of vigorous exercise

  1. Pingback: Beat my 2k record by 4 seconds » Joshua Spodek

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