Max Foley shares how committing to exercise has had a positive effect on him as a person

rsz opening imageConsider this: Out of everything you've ever done — every habit you've established or kicked, every experience you've had, every memorable part of your life — what has changed your life the most? What has had the most positive effect on your life?

For me and countless others, the answer is exercise. Fitness. Athletics. However you label it, physical activity has changed lives for the better since the Greeks and Romans discovered the benefits of intentional exertion. Socrates said, almost 2-1/2 millennia ago: "No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."

Socrates' point of view is limiting. The issue goes deeper than simple weight training for men. A more modern approach, like that of Dr. Mike Evans, fits the bill for exercise in the 21st century. In his now-famous lecture "23-½ Hours" (which I highly recommend), Evans advocates 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise a day. Something as simple as a half-hour of walking, every day, can lower everything from your risk of deadly heart disease to stress and anxiety levels. Who could've known that exercise was equally good for your physical health as well as your mental health?

LESSONS LEARNED

Marek Hejduk, who coaches the mixed martial arts club at Mount Royal University, has consistently felt the benefits of fitness throughout his life."From a very young age, I've been involved in athletics. Gymnastics, swimming, and now martial arts – you name it, I've tried it. I've stuck with it for so long because I've had so many 'Aha!' moments, so many life-changing paradigm shifts that I'd be lost without it."rsz 235hThis is a screenshot from a YouTube video produced by 24 Hour Fitness, which is a worldwide organization promoting healthier living. In this video people are encouraged to break up the time the long periods they are sedentary by completing at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.

Screenshot taken by Max Foley.

Recalling his swimming days, Hejduk says he was a target for bullying as someone who performed better than most.

"I was one of the faster kids. I think people resent those who can outperform them. So, the other kids put together an unofficial 'Beat Up Marek' day. The worst I ever got was a bunch of broken fingers when they sat on me and bent my fingers back. After that, I promised to myself I'd never be bullied or pushed around again."

Today, Hejduk has found his element in the field of martial arts. After being introduced to combatives by his grandfather, he never looked back.

"Martial arts taught me to be emotionally invested in my success. And that lesson has carried over into the business world. If you're not passionate about what you're doing, if you don't have that investment, why are you doing it? You're bound to succeed if you genuinely care."

LONG TERM BENEFITS

Let's revisit Dr. Evans' lecture. What can one expect from a low-intensity exercise regimen? According to Evans, physical benefits can be a 58 per cent decrease in the risk of type two diabetes and an overall 23 per cent reduction in risk of premature death. Observing the mental aspects is even more shocking – a five per cent reduction in risk of Alzheimer's and dementia; a 48 per cent reduction in anxiety; varying rates of success for curing depression (30-47 per cent depending on intensity of exercise). Exercise could very well save your life.

My personal experience with fitness might as well have. From a young age, I had a very vested interest in reading and writing, which stayed with me as I made my way through school. Paired with a dampened enthusiasm for competitive sports and a fascination with technology, I could've been described as the stereotypical nerd. I liked debating and discussing with my teachers and sometimes had trouble reading social cues. I was a perfect target for bullying. As I made my way from school to school, to Singapore and back, I went through the same thing countless other kids did: teasing, name-calling, ostracism and worse were the name of the game.

As I grew older, I tried everything. Rock-climbing, fencing, swimming, rugby, tennis – nothing stuck. And it wasn't for lack of trying or performing. I simply couldn't dedicate myself to something I wasn't invested in. Enduring the endless ribbing, I resigned myself to spending my days playing videogames with my equally nerdy friends.

rsz 11opening imageMount Royal University student Max Foley says that one of the positive impacts fitness has had on his life is that it helped transform him from an apathetic and insecure bullying victim into a confident young man with drive.

Photo illustration by Max Foley
I first dabbled in weight-training in Grade 8. Every day, for about an hour, I'd train in my bare-bones condo gym, doing whatever I pleased. I was too young to notice any kind of physical change, yet something kept me going for a couple of months. A general feeling of apathy, of giving up and accepting what was given to me, gave way to a sort of focused indignation. All too suddenly, I wanted more for myself. But instead of chasing that feeling, I let it fade away as I left Singapore and returned to Canada for high school. I wouldn't experience that feeling again for a few more years.

LIFE CHANGING HABITS

In summer of my sophomore year of high school, I had to retake math. Every morning I'd carpool to summer school with a friend of mine. After four hours of intermittently falling asleep in class, we'd leave and go to the gym for a workout. We never missed a day – there was something about that hour we spent in the gym that kept us coming back.

When I returned for my junior year of high school, something was different. My school uniform fit tighter – I actually filled it out, instead of having it hang baggily on my shoulders like it once did. I no longer looked like a scarecrow, a misfit garbed in the same polo and slacks everyone else wore. Day in, day out, I was in the gym, doing routines made up on the fly until it hurt. Looking in the mirror was fun, new, exciting. I actually liked what I saw. Many a night was spent trawling the Web looking for ways to improve my workouts. My nature as a knowledge sponge, an information addict, was finally put to good use.

What initially started out as a way to kill time became a full-blown obsession. Throughout my final years in school I discovered a deeper drive to improve. When I wasn't in the gym I was devouring anything and everything on becoming a better person. By the time graduation came around, I didn't recognize myself. The insecure and apathetic bullying victim of a few years past didn't exist anymore.
Today, exercise is an essential part of my life. I don't know what I'd do without it. It's become so much more than just hitting the gym for an hour. It's become a full-time desire for excellence, a draw towards other forms of exercise both physical and mental. Now I'm at the point where I want people to see it the way I do. I want to help people experience what I did.

In that moment of your day, where you're alone in your thoughts and focused on only one thing, you learn a lot about yourself. It's almost meditative, religious. Whether you're on a quick jog or a day-long kayak trip, everyone should know the feeling of complete solitude and serenity that only exercise provides. Call it what you will – runner's high, "the pump", a rush of adrenaline – it's better than any drug.

And it will save your life.

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