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Live longer, better... by Steve Fox

In my last blog I talked about the commencement of my path to becoming a Mental Health and Exercise Coach (MHEC). I said that I had no idea what the outcome may mean to me occupationally, however things have moved on a bit since then.

At the start of June, I attended a two day retreat for MHEC coaches where I was surrounded by some of the most inspirational and compassionate people I have ever met. I felt both humble and appreciated in equal measure and the experience made me decide that it is time to roll my snowball down the mountain and see what happens.

So, with the faith and trust of my wife being a key motivator, I am bringing my thirty-five year career in financial services to an end to become a self-employed personal trainer and mental health and exercise coach – world, meet Steve Fox Fine Fettle.

Key to my decision making process was to work out exactly why I am making such a significant change at the age of 57. The foundations of my resolve are the principles that I have evolved to live my life by:

· You are never too old to go out and play.

· I have a responsibility to myself, my family and my friends to be around for as long as possible to enjoy and support them.

· Time being alive is limited, not guaranteed, and the odds of maximising my time alive can be weighed in my favour.

· We don’t stop moving because we get old, we get old because we stop moving.

· Exercise must be fun.

There is an undoubted theme here, that of longevity. Undoubtedly this word is important to me because of two events that happened in 2017, my heart attack and the birth of my first grandchild. If you Google it, you’ll be told that longevity is the ability to last for a long time. I disagree.

Longevity does not mean simply adding on years, like notches on a belt, until you wither away and die, that’s Lifespan. More importantly is Health span, that period of our lives in which we can thrive because we are free of disability and disease. It is easy to fall into the trap that things are pre-ordained, but Health span is much more malleable than you think.

I have lost three parents to cancer, a close friend to cancer and another to a neurodegenerative disease. These are two of what Peter Attia calls The Four Horsemen, the other two are heart disease and metabolic dysfunction (diabetes/hypertension/obesity etc.).

The medical profession has massively advanced in areas such as infection treatment, organ replacement, spine damage and brain injury. However significant reductions in mortality for the Horsemen, despite the warranted worldwide investment of billions of hours and pounds, remain elusive. With one notable exception.

Education has led to a decline in smoking and has directly reduced lung cancer mortality. This proves that intervention works. It has been suggested that the Horsemen can be a cumulative result of multiple risk factors compounding over time. Whilst the focus of the medical profession is the saving of life, i.e., extending Lifespan, we have it within ourselves to create early interventions to reduce or eliminate risk factors, and thereby increase Health span.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.” Exercise is by far the post potent longevity drug and can allow us to prevent that fall. No other intervention does nearly so much to prolong Health span, Lifespan, and cognitive and physical function.

My sport of choice is obstacle course racing. I describe it as a comparison to that time when we were children when we ventured out, climbed up stuff and got muddy. We played and had fun. In this modern age, it can be easy to say you’re too old, too unfit or don’t have the time to exercise. However, I am going to demonstrate that is all untrue, and that exercise is the most natural state for you to be in.

The first thing we learn to do as babies is crawl. Then we learn to walk by putting one foot in front of the other. Then we learn to run, mostly to our parent/carer for comfort because we hurt ourselves – then we go and do it again. This clearly demonstrates that before we learn to talk, we:

· complete a series of physical challenges based on progression – Adaptability.

· overcome obstacles by taking one step at a time – Independence.

· have a natural instinct to move and learn new skills – Aspiration.

· are comfortable making associations – Connection.

· will go back and do stuff again even though we know it might hurt – Courage.

Everyone accepts the concept that exercise makes you feel better but without knowing the reasons why. I’ve just given you five and they are not related to Health span or Lifespan. They are by-products and skills that can be transferred to daily life. The beneficial impacts of exercise on physical and mental health are clear. This is why my programme is based on fundamental movement patterns and the physical balancing of the body to provide a return to a natural way of moving.

Neuroscientists have argued that the entire purpose of the human brain is to produce movement as that is the only way of interacting and surviving in the world around us. Our body correlating movement with survival dates to when we left Africa to explore the world around us. The Agricultural, Industrial and Technology revolutions took place twelve thousand, three hundred and forty years ago. We have moved far away from our natural ancestral way of moving in a comparatively short space of time given our species has been in existence for millennia.

Depriving ourselves of our evolved natural state therefore unsurprisingly has consequences for our mental as well as physical health. Mental health has been a taboo subject in the past. It became that way because people didn’t want to talk about it. People who did routinely speak about it were discriminated against. This ironically led to the whole subject being suppressed when it needed to be out in the open, in plain sight and regularly discussed.

Even now there is a reticence to delve too deeply but every one of us is qualified to do so. We all have mental health, it is just that some of us are in a better place than others, and that is OK. My qualification in mental health and exercise coaching does not make me a people whisperer. It does however enable me to speak with people I work with in an empathetic and understanding manner to improve physical and mental fitness in parallel.

It is so easy to feel lost in modern life as we must give so much of ourselves to families and jobs among many other responsibilities. However, we will never be in a place to give our best in the execution of our responsibilities unless we are in good shape ourselves, and that means MIND and BODY. We must not lose track of who we are, we must make time to put ourselves first, and we must remember to have fun because when we are laughing is one of the few times that we are truly ourselves.

In those moments when we feel lost in modern life, we often yearn for the freedom of childhood. There is a good reason for this as that was the last time, we were truly free. It is when we were adventurers and let our imagination run away with us – we just went out to play. We are never too old to do that, sometimes we just need someone to take us by the hand and remind us of the way. That’s my job.

I have a tattoo on my left side of a skeleton at prayer from William Cheselden’s 1733 anatomical masterpiece known as “Memento Mori”. Memento Mori is Latin for “remember you have to die.” My tattoo is a reminder to me that when I pass on:

· I will have looked after the people I care about for as long as possible and to the best of my ability.

· I will have achieved all I wanted to.

· I will offer myself up with no regrets.

· I will have done all the above whilst having fun.

Investment in our own mental and physical health is the most important one we can make as it will give us the greatest and most significant return. I won’t be able to achieve any of my goals without it.

We cannot write new beginnings, but we can change our endings. Let us do so together. Let’s Live Longer, Better.

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