Running on Empty

For as often as the words “healthy” and “fit” are used interchangeably in daily conversation, they don’t always go hand in hand. In fact, working in the health and fitness industry, I regularly meet fit-bodied people whose health appears to be suffering.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

Often, these people are “drivers” — Type-A personalities who constantly demand maximum results from themselves in all areas of their lives, but who rarely allow themselves the necessary time for rest, balance and recovery.

At work, home, or the gym, and even in their social lives, these individuals seem to be forever competing, pushing, racing to achieve — and many times they do get where they want to go. But just as often, their success comes at the expense of their health and vitality. And as a result, their performance and effectiveness (not to mention their happiness) tend to suffer in the long run.

I’ve known people who put in long hours at demanding jobs and still work out three or four hours a day, six or seven days a week in an effort to keep themselves at the peak of physical fitness. Most of them wind up looking drawn and exhausted. Their skin appears slack and sallow. They’re short-tempered and reactive, and they seem to catch every cold that comes along. Physically, mentally and emotionally, they are just not at the top of their game.

This is what happens when we drain our energy sources for too long without recharging them. We simply wear down our reserves to the point that something has to give — and one of the first things to go may be the good health we’ve taken for granted.

Perhaps we sustain an injury that just won’t heal properly. Or we find ourselves saddled with a chronic health condition that forces us to slow down. Or we struggle with the kind of low-grade dissatisfaction and lack of energy that gradually drain all the joy out of life.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been there myself. And what I’ve learned from those unfortunate experiences is this: The only way to reclaim whole-person health is to reclaim whole-life balance. That means figuring in adequate time for rest and recovery, as well as for fun, creativity, exploration and personal connections. It means giving yourself time to unplug, giving your body and soul time to heal — even if it means dialing back certain goals or pulling back from certain commitments. Even if it means accomplishing a little less than we think we could or “should.”

I’m a huge advocate for making regular physical activity and exercise a top priority, and I’m a big fan of taking on bold and ambitious goals in all areas of life, too. But I also know that there are times when it’s important to give our bodies and minds a much deserved break — whether that involves getting away for a few days of fly-fishing or simply saying no to outside requests and to our own internal taskmasters (for more on that, see “Fire Your Inner Taskmaster” in the December 2004 archives).

The human body is an amazing, intelligent, incredibly powerful system — one with the capacity to endure an astonishing amount of stress and abuse, and to recover beautifully without heroic interventions. But only if it’s given the opportunity and basic resources it needs to heal itself. And it’s up to us to provide that opportunity.

As with most things, it comes down to balance, moderation and common sense:

If your body is sending you early warning signals that it’s running low on reserves or falling behind in its healing duties, take heed. Prioritize good nutrition and deep rest, and make space for some stress-relieving experiences (massage, yoga, time in nature) that give your sympathetic, “fight-or-flight” nervous system a break, and that give your parasympathetic, “calm and content” nervous system a much needed jump-start.

This issue of Experience Life is full of many terrific suggestions that can help you achieve optimal levels of both health and fitness — and to enjoy yourself a little more in the process. After all, if you’re not driving toward a life of more joy and satisfaction, what’s your rush to get there?

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Newsletter Signup
Weekly Newsletter
Special Promotions