Do not hold on to well-being for too long

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” – two over-used and almost clichéd quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche. In weight training they find their counterpart in the famous motto “no pain, no gain”, which is likewise a hackneyed maxim, although a bit younger.

The line of thinking, which is nevertheless relevant to discuss, may in any case seem a bit contradictory in terms of wellness and fitness, which are – the former in particular – primarily related to well-being. In classic Greek thinking, concepts such as ataraxia and eudaimonia may be roughly translated into happiness and tranquillity, and these intimately related Epicurean and Aristotelian modes may perhaps find their late modern equivalents in for example the effects of having a healthy diet and a fairly low percentage of body fat, in conjunction with lack of illness and a series of good night’s sleep.

But the thing is that feelings of well-being are only partial and temporal states of both body and mind (which of course are closely interrelated and actually non-separable both from a philosophic and scientific point of view), and not just in the general sense that we age and eventually die. Weight training, and/or other forms of physical conduct, combined with a proper diet, may both directly and indirectly lead to a lot of benefits, including an overall sense of well-being. But to even get to those provisional states, one needs to experience almost the opposite of well-being, that is, to endure some amount or degree of pain. Not pain in the destructive sense, like the kind one experiences when being injured, but of the constructive type. A large portion of daily exercise should in fact be based on this particular constructive pain.

Hence, if you feel too good about yourself for too long, and strive to constantly reach and preserve that perceived positive mind-body state, you are probably on the wrong path and need to redirect your inner sensation into the lands of exertion and constructive pain. Because to suffer a little, although in the proper sense, is a constant and integral part of developing one’s physical and intellectual faculties. In fact, some may even find certain books more painful than exhausting leg training. Perhaps because the very same persons are used to train hard but not to study hard (or vice versa).

Therefore: always put yourself to new tests, both physically and intellectually, and do not let well-being make you passive.

Is there a healthy narcissism?

As far as I know, it exists a distinction between clinical narcissism (Narcissistic personality disorder) and a more loosely defined sort, with far from clear-cut demarcations, that may be measured by professional psychologists in terms of more or less.

This kind of distinction between on one hand pathological and on the other hand a more general and widely-spread phenomenon, is applicable on a number of cases within the rather broad research fields – developmental psychology and behavior genetics, for instance – that focus on different dimensions of the human psyche and our behavior repertoires.

The latter sort does also implicate that “we all” have it to some degree, for example narcissistic tendencies – not the least persons who are into fitness. Then is this good, bad or should we perhaps be indifferent about our levels of self-conceit?

First of all, it seems that general narcissism is quite acceptable in the current era, and it is perhaps even essential for success in different areas of society, whether it is related to work environments, social interaction or both. The debate is far from new, and the subject has been discussed by for example Christopher Lasch in his work The Culture of Narcissism (1979), but throughout later years it has also been examined by a number of psychologists with a work environmental angle in their research.

The myth about Narcissus warns us about the negative side of too much self-love, but with a more proper balance to it, it might potentially even be healthy. The Economist writes:

Finding the right value to put on oneself is a balancing act, Mr Blackburn sagely observes, though there are no simple rules that can steer us between the Scylla of excessive self-love and the Charybdis of its opposite. The matter of “positioning oneself among others in the social world” is a complex one, so discovering the right mix of attitudes and feelings “may be like finding the centre of gravity of a cloud”.

So yes, it exists a “healthy” narcissism if it is balanced by other traits such as critical self-awareness and altruism. You need to love yourself to some extent in order to be confident enough to strive to become for instance a better fitness athlete or scholar and not let other people pin you down. But you also need to let go of the image of the mirror – because eventually it will deterioate, both in its concrete and outward manifestation and in its symbolic and inner aspect, and particularly if you stare at it for too long instead of eating, reading and lifting weights.

Overall, like in so many other regards of life, sofrosyne, moderation, will give you fruitful guidance.

Chino Xl – a role model of our kind

As one should have noticed, there are not that many people – famous or infamous – who embody our current ideal of body and brains. People with body or brains are much, much easier to find. In fact you find them almost everywhere, although they are probably not as common as people without both brains and body. The American rapper Derek Barbosa (born in 1974), more known as Chino Xl, is however an exception.

It is quite simple to distinguish that he belongs to this particular category – in his videos, especially from the early 00s onwards, one experiences a rather heavily-muscled guy that spits demanding rhymes in an often intellectual and sharp manner, something which only a very limited number of MCs can manage to do at equal or near-equal level.

If one reads a little bit about him, one realizes that he is in fact a confirmed member of Mensa. Thus a really smart guy, not just a bit above average. He does not seem to have any college or university degrees, though, and appears to be more of an autodidactic.

When it comes to his physique, it seems quite far from shredded, at least in general, but Chino Xl does not compete in bodybuilding or Men’s physique as far as I know, hence does not need to be cut and jacked, and his overall muscularity – at least on the upper body – is nevertheless rather impressive.

Needless to say, it is easy to find songs and albums with Chino Xl. Riconstruction (2012) is his latest full length album.

Damage control cardio

One important strategy from the fitness repertoire is cardio training, of which there are many kinds of available options, especially if the current climate and/or season allows for outdoor activities.

Cardio can be done fast or it can be time-consuming, and it can be executed within the spectrum of both high-, medium- and low-intensity training. It can be indoor or outdoor, with the help from machines and/or weights, or with just your own body weight, which often is the case when you run, jog or walk. It can be done in the morning, during midday or in the evening. There is in fact a whole range of options and dimensions to consider in regard to cardio, of which most are very easy to grasp, both in theory and practice.

One good thing with cardio is of course that it helps us to cut calories, whether it is for the purpose of decresing body fat or to burn glycogen ad hoc. In the last instance, the term damage control cardio is rather hitting. There are many possible real-life examples to think of, but for instance after a saturday evening with a lot of extra calories from dinner and desserts, the best thing is definitely not to wait and get that small but still existing extra amount of body fat, as a result of calorie surplus, but to do some cardio!

So what to do then, specifically? I advocate all of the above-mentioned exercise modes and options, and in general the decision should if anything be related to context and situation, but I think that often a rather extensive speed walk (or power walk) session should be appropriate for most people, in quite many settings and situations.

Speed walking can indeed be time-consuming, but about 60-90 available minutes are far from impossible to find on a sunday morning or forenoon. And the best thing is that it allows for either company or lonesome contemplation.

Quite few people – regardless of their respective level of fitness – cannot manage to walk at a decent speed for this amount of time, and the combination with, hopefully, fresh air and physical activity makes it a good opportunity for conversation. It is an excellent time for catching up with a friend or family member, and often freshens the brain acitivity so that you can either discuss interesting topics or think and contemplate on your own.

I can only speak for myself, but it seems to me that a lot of good ideas emerge when one speed walks. In both short- and long-term it will, needless to say, also help to decrease some amount of body fat, or at least decrease the increase after calorie surplus.

Does aspartame depress IQ?

For about a month ago, I held a lecture at a university-preparatory school in Sweden. The audience – boys and girls in their late teens – thus had to listen to my exposition about fitness and nutrition, and at least the majority seemed to appreciate the most of it.

Basically in regard to nutrition, I examined four main tips, of which the fourth I emphasized as the least important but nevertheless eventually rather essential to some people. That is: eat sweeteners if you have developed some sort of addiction to sugar (and/or a tendency to eat too much carbohydrates in general). It helps to decrease calories and to avoid junk food and drinks.

After EFSA’s study about aspartame – which was released in December last year – it is namely safe to assert a thing a like that. Even if science in this respect is tentative and partially incomplete in particular senses, one can still stop worrying about depressed cognitive abilities due to diet coke, sugar free chewing gums etc. The EFSA report does for instance state the following:

Experts of ANS Panel have considered all available information and, following a detailed analysis, have concluded that the current Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40mg/kg bw/day is protective for the general population. However, in patients suffering from the medical condition phenylketonuria (PKU), the ADI is not applicable, as they require strict adherence to a diet low in phenylalanine (an amino acid found in proteins).

Following a thorough review of evidence provided both by animal and human studies, experts have ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer. EFSA’s experts also concluded that aspartame does not harm the brain, the nervous system or affect behaviour or cognitive function in children or adults. With respect to pregnancy, the Panel noted that there was no risk to the developing fetus from exposure to phenylalanine derived from aspartame at the current ADI (with the exception of women suffering from PKU).

If these products would in fact impair IQ the slightest, I would have never consumed a single one of them. Hence, one has to take notice of nutrition of all sorts that might have deleterious effects on both body and brains. But aspartame does not seem to be one of them. (And now there is stevia, too).

Role models and idols

An integral part of the development of one’s physical and/or intellectual dimensions, is to have concrete goals as well as role models, two things that may be closely intertwined and interplay. But what kind of apporach is appropriate when it specifically comes to the latter?

First of all, one has to distinguish between role models and idols. I will not dwell on other people’s choices and preferences in life, but for me at least, it seems the opposite of constructive to have any kind of idol at all. It is not like we should pretend that people are of equal social status, or that it is wrong to admire other for their talents and achievements, whether it includes athletes, authors, actors, inventors, philosophers or some other category of people. Rather the opposite. But to worship other, and hence degrade oneself, undermine both the inner and outer foundations of one’s being. It can only make you weak, subordinate and passive to put other on a pedestal, and it is as bad as to resent the higher status of other people.

However, I think this phenomenon is almost self-evidently partly due to individual differences in taste and disposition, and therefore it is understandable that some might fall under the vertical axis of the late modern society’s living gods and goddesses and start to lionize, while other are more or less indifferent to the whole thing. For me, to the extent that I have met celebrities, in for instance L.A. and NYC, I have never cared that much and am for the same reason obviously more suitable to be in that sort of social settings. An ironic paradox.

In any case, due to the asserted reason I do at most have role models in life, not idols. The lines between these two categories are perhaps a bit blurry, but the lack of worship regarding role models still makes it a relevant conceptual distinction. Thus, one does for instance seek for a better physique by looking up to athletes who are partly or completely better than oneself and strives to gradually reach that level, or at least narrow the gap between oneself and the role model in question. That is the basic principle of having a role model in the constructive sense.

The same line of thinking is of course also applicable in regard to intellectual development. For example, one can strive to be a little bit more like Umberto Eco and/or Steven Pinker in terms of the amount of knowledge to possess in order to be more intellectually complete.

Perhaps the best thing with aiming at certain role models is also that it sheds light on the comparative and relative dimension which is often involved in most fields that demand a constant progress in order to excel. It is mainly about one’s particular development, rather than a wish to be exactly like some other person, but you still have to compare yourself to other and relate to the qualities and/or quantities that presuppose their respective level of achievement. Not even hardcore individualists exist in a societal vacuum, and complete self-absorption can only be counterproductive.

This implies that it might be relevant to change and replace role models at different stages of life, depending on a number of different contextual factors, of which some probably are more subjective while other being more objective. It might also imply that it is relevant to have a rather vast number of role models and in different respects. As contradictory as it may seem, one probably needs a whole pantheon of role models – not idols – not to worship, but to aspire to reach or at least approach in terms of their skills and qualities.