HEALTHY BODY/HEALTHY MIND

Last week, wrapped in some whining and ranting and raving, were embedded some of those delightful little devils, New Years Resolutions. Believe me, I’m not going over all that doom and gloom and impotent rage stuff again. On my to do list for today was the item:

> FAH blog post (something POSITIVE!)

The least I can do is follow my own instructions.

So here we are, firmly ensconced in 2012, a year I’ve determined will be better than the last. So what have I done about that? Well, lots of stuff actually. In the immortal words of Paula Abdul, “I work my ASS OFF, Jeff!” (That was her swearing, not me.) But today I’d like to talk about that evil resolution about being more healthy, which last week I outed as fat person slang for “lose weight.” When you’re, like me, somewhere around a hundred pounds overweight, it’s very difficult to get substantially healthier without losing weight. So even though my goal is not simply to shed pounds, but to feel better and live longer, I can’t have one without the other.

Well, so, then, good for me, right? But what the heck (see, that’s me not swearing) does this have to do with writing fantasy and science fiction, which is what this blog is actually supposed to be about?

Time and again, countless people have repeated  some variation of: A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand. I think this is only partially true.

I’ve been working with Jay Lake on our Fathomless Abyss project while at the same time checking in on his regular posts about his continuing battle with cancer. Jay’s not giving in, but right now, his body is not healthy. Though he’s been very open about having some bad days, some days when much as he’d like, he simply can’t work, Jay has been writing all along, and if his story for Tales From The Fathomless Abyss is any indication, the cancer in his body has not affected his creativity—his mind—at all. Jay is one example of a healthy mind in an unhealthy body.

And here I am, an old, fat, bald guy, with even fewer excuses. I don’t have cancer, or any other serious illness. Right now I don’t even have any nuisance illnesses. So this morning, shed of all excuses, the kids back in school and my wife back at work, I had no choice but to stare that New Years Resolution right in the face. I can’t not even start, after all, so I dusted off that Yoga for Beginners DVD I bought so many years ago I can’t even remember, and actually did yoga.

People who really, y’know, do yoga, and people who like YouTube and America’s Funniest Home Videos, would surely have found this a sight to behold. But I don’t care. I was doing it. Then I got on the exercise bike, and while reading the first few chapters of Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles, did my thirty minutes of cardio.

Day one, complete.

On that score anyway.

Has it made me a better writer? Too early to tell, but I have gone through healthier periods in my life and I know it will. Exercise gives me energy. I sleep less and get better sleep while I am sleeping. I deal with stress better—way better, actually. And those two things alone help me write more, and the more I write, the better at it I get—at least incrementally.

For the advice part of this post I would say, do the same. Don’t hurt yourself. Believe your doctor and other health professionals over me in all things, but do something. Hate yoga and/or exercise bikes? Do something else, then, but do something.

One of the things I would caution you to do is to ignore anyone who tries to tell you what your “goal weight” should be. Mine is XXL. When I fit into the XXL wardrobe that’s been waiting for me to get back down to that size for the last six years or so, I’m there. I don’t give the south end of a northbound rat what the scale tells me then or now.

Equally ignore any advice as to what your “normal” weight is. They keep shifting those things, actually: goal and normal and ideal. Now it seems that “normal” is what twenty years ago was considered “world-class athlete.”

If you’re spending more than two hours a day, five days a week exercising, I think you’re pushing it. If you want to train for a marathon or triathlon becuase you think it’ll be fun to participate in those events, go ahead. But if you aren’t a professional athlete, if you’re a writer, or pretty much anything else, you don’t have to be in the same physical condition as an Olympic athlete. If you’re older than, say, 25, you’re probably never going to be no matter how hard you hit the gym. If, like me, your genes tell your body to store fat more so than other people, this will be especially true.

If you’re exercising to the point of pain or exhaustion, back off. If you’re exercising instead of writing, exercise less and write more. But writing fiction is a long game. You may not be published in your teens. You may have several ups and downs in your career. You’ll have all sorts of real life challenges that interfere with how many words you can write today, let alone over the course of the next year, but if you’re dead of a heart attack at the age of 45, you’ve cheated yourself and your readers out of maybe that many more years’ worth of great stories.

I’m not doing all this so I can be mistaken for a taller Brad Pitt. I’m doing this so I can live to tell the tale.

Literally.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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One Response to HEALTHY BODY/HEALTHY MIND

  1. Juan Dougnac says:

    Dear Mr. Athans:

    While I don’t pretend to tell you how you should do things, here are a few simple things that helped me a lot when my weight was higher than it should’ve been.

    Besides exercising regularly, it could be a good idea to try and slightly change what you eat, so you gradually develop healthy eating habits. For example, if you like to drink milk, change it to milk with less fat and, once you get used to that, switch it to fat free milk. In other things, maybe boiled or barbecued meat instead of fried?

    Another thing was drastically reducing my intake of alcohol, responsible for a good part of my over weight.

    Finally, in regards to excercise, I would recommend you do something in a group. Perhaps yoga, as you said: it’s always better when there are other people struggling in the same direction that you are. Maybe not everyone has the same health problems that you have, but generally speaking, everyone involved in a group activity of that kind will have the goal of improving themselves, in one way or another, and so everyone should be supportive with you: it always restores faith in humanity when a person that’s past his 20’s starts caring about his health and actually doing something about it.

    I hope you are able to fulfill your wish for a better health this year, mister Athans.

    Sincerely

    Juan Dougnac

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