3. Health and Fitness

Health and Fitness for Life

Health and Fitness Blog 1Contents page

A note on the book

My Health and Fitness for Life guide is nearing completion and will soon be available to order in book form. In the meantime, I have published the full introduction along with the first eleven chapters to give you some idea of what you can expect from the book.

As soon as the book has been published and made available for sale, I will update this page with a link for those of you who would like to order a copy.

Book Introduction

My health and fitness guide first began life as a health blog on this site back in August 2013. Over a period of fifty days I posted a total of fifty chapters, each dedicated to a specific aspect of nutrition, fitness and general health. After I had published all fifty chapters, I felt that the blog taken as a whole would work well in book format by offering the reader a complete guide to a healthy lifestyle all from one source. This is how the idea for the book was first conceived.

Being passionately opposed to self-promotion, I feel compelled at this early stage to openly declare that I make no claim to expertise, authority or perfect knowledge on matters of physical health, at least inasmuch as anyone can claim to have perfect knowledge in any chosen field. I tend to agree here with Charles Chaplin’s assessment: “We are all of us amateurs; none of us live long enough to be anything else.” That said, I can assure you that the advice I have pieced together for this book represents the fruits of much painstaking research conducted over a number of years. It has been an exercise in gathering, and then carefully scrutinising, the abundant literature which exists on the subject of health and fitness. Any advice appearing in this book instead of on the cutting room floor does so by virtue of having survived a series of filters which can be said to represent my own sceptical world view.

Consequently, only that advice which seemed to me plausible, well-reasoned and logical has been included. Anything which struck me as speculative, implausible, unscientific and unsubstantiated was discarded. Inevitability then, what remains in this book will only be as good as my ability to separate good advice from bad; the genuine from the phony; fact from fiction. In all humility, my fallacy detector kit on these matters may not prove to be as foolproof as I like to think it is, so I will leave it to my readers to incorporate whatever seems worthwhile to them and to discard that which seems irrelevant or simply unfounded or misinformed. Despite my best intentions for your health, it seems only right that I caution you against implicit acceptance of anything I have to say on the subject. In the spirit of healthy scepticism over any health program you encounter, I would implore the reader to remember the words of Mark Twain, who offered us all the following amusing admonition:

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

Naturally, I have tried desperately hard to avoid any such fatal misprints! I myself have followed the advice published in this book with varying degrees of fidelity at one time or another over the years. What’s more, I can honestly say that the amount of success I have had in doing so has always been commensurate with the degree of fidelity. That is to say, the more faithful I have been in my adherence to the principles and strategies contained herein, the more success I have had in accomplishing my own health and fitness goals.

I suppose this book is my attempt to share this success with you and to impart the many insights I have gained along the way. If I can help you remove some of the painstaking trial and error involved in developing and perfecting your own health and fitness program, and in so doing, empower and expedite your own personal journey towards the successful fulfillment of your goals, then I will consider it ‘job done’. But perhaps I am making a morally conceited pretense of altruism here, or maybe just a naïvely misplaced offering up of praise to the alleged munificence of my own true motives. Perhaps, in truth, this guide is really no more than a pretext for my own proselytistic predispositions. After all, as Marcel Proust once said: “The one thing more difficult than following a regimen is not imposing it on others.” Regardless of motive, the advice contained within this book will either stand or fall by its own merit when subjected to close scrutiny. Whichever outcome prevails will no doubt be determined by the quality of the advice rather than any factors motivating its conveyance.

The earlier chapters of this book place emphasis on the fundamentals of nutrition and the importance of eating correctly when your goal is improved body composition. The later chapters seek to refine a more detailed program for improving and maintaining good physical health. This book will outline for you the many strategies which you can easily incorporate into your daily routine to start becoming fitter, stronger and healthier.
Correct nutrition and regular exercise will obviously be integral to much of the advice which follows, but you will also find this book returning time and again to the important role a positive mental attitude will play when it comes to adopting and maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle. The importance of forging the right mental state and character traits needed for success on any health and fitness program are themes which I return to repeatedly throughout this book. To support me in this endeavor, you will find that I have frequently called upon the wisdom of many literary figures, some ancient and some more contemporary. Furthermore, to help you stay motivated as you progress through the book, I have ended each and every chapter with an inspirational quotation carefully chosen from the many offered up by these afore-mentioned literary greats – men and women whose own expertise belonged to fields as diverse as science, art, literature, psychology and philosophy.

Although you will probably benefit more by reading through these chapters in the order they appear in the book, most chapters should work just as effectively when read in isolation. After all, when I first blogged these chapters, my intention was to ensure they could be read as daily, stand-alone health tips which my readers could then gradually piece together for themselves so as to come up with their own complete guide for healthy living.

Naturally, I appreciate every individual is unique (just like everyone else!) and every individual will have specific objectives in mind, not to mention a unique body type and genetic make-up. My book will address these variations and provide a versatile methodology for living healthily rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach which would better suit a specific individual with a specific goal. That said, each individual will be able to derive very individualised strategies from the advice contained within.

The main objective of this guide will be to help you move progressively closer to a healthier lifestyle and improved physical condition in line with whatever your own personal goals may be. Most of the information provided will take the form of useful strategies you can start adopting right away in order to start moving steadily towards your goals. Most chapters will elaborate on themes which fall into one or more of the following five categories:

1) Knowledge about body composition and the strategies you can adopt to continuously improve your own body composition by optimising your nutrition and exercise plans.

2) Goal-setting, planning, recording results, using feedback and modifying your exercise and nutrition program where necessary.

3) Motivation, discipline and general psychology.

4) Execution of your nutrition plan.

5) Execution of your exercise plan.

I firmly believe that the advice contained within this book will not only offer you a complete blueprint for getting fit and healthy, but will also inspire you to start thinking and acting positively in pursuit of all your goals and aspirations, whether health-related or some other. I am confident the chapters which follow will prove to be educational, entertaining, practical, motivational, inspirational, and – in short – essential reading for anyone serious about producing positive changes to their physical condition and all-round health. This book is for anyone with an earnest desire, not only to instigate these positive changes, but to maintain them for life. If you’ve read this far you’ve already taken the first step.

I wish you every success on your journey.

Sean Maguire, 27th September, 2013

Afterword to the Introduction

The Mind-Body Dichotomy: A philosophical digression

QuestionsFinding a Health and Fitness Guide on a site dedicated mainly to academic development may seem unconventional, but I would argue that the perception there need exist a special time and a place for working on good physical health aside from good mental health is a misguided one, and in itself, unhealthy.

Traditionally, we tend to find a neat partition between those activities designed to condition the mind and those activities designed to condition the body as if mind and body were somehow separate from one another. This tradition may well find its most influential progenitor in the seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes, who proposed his famous ‘mind-body problem’ as a problem in reconciling these two states of being as if they were ever distinct from one another to begin with.

We seem to have evolved a concept of mind and body as separate realms but we also believe that mind affects body and body affects mind. The problem is this: if they are entirely separate realms then how can one interfere with the other? Put simply, how can minds make any difference to the physical world if they’re not physical themselves? The mind-body problem emerged largely as a result of Descartes’ failed attempt to establish a satisfactory causal link between these two allegedly separate realms of mind and body.

Descartes believed the mind to be some sort of disembodied, non-physical essence, soul or spirit, which simply inhabits or attaches itself to the physical body. This sort of belief persists amongst many people today. It’s an unscientific proposition by definition since it makes a claim which is quite simply non-falsifiable and therefore untestable. It’s of no small irony then that such an unscientific proposition was propounded by Descartes, a man widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern-day science.

Speaking for myself personally, although I cannot assert with absolute certainty that there is no real meaning in talking of a mind essence aside from a physical essence, there seems to me no evidence whatsoever that warrants the distinction being considered a real and meaningful one. Such a claim to some sort of metaphysical distinction finds itself, like any potentially unlimited number of other claims, existing outside the realm of falsification and, as such, outside the purview of science. Imposing a certain burden of evidence has always served me reliably in the past and, as always, I’d welcome the chance to reevaluate my beliefs should any evidence to the contrary ever be forthcoming.

Until then, I have no reason to believe that the mind-body dichotomy is anything other than an illusion, albeit a persistent one, much like the distinction made between matter and energy prior to Einstein’s formula E = mc2. Whereas people had no problem accepting the revolutionary concept of equivalence between matter and energy, an admission of a similar kind for mind and body would no doubt strike at the heart of many people’s hopes, fears and belief systems. As is often the case, veracity inevitably makes way for personal solace in such matters, although I would argue that accepting the latter as a substitute for the former is an illusion of comfort no thinking man could ever find any real comfort in.

I would suggest then that if mind and body truly is a false dichotomy (as I believe it is) and the words ‘mind’ and ‘body’ are simply two different words for describing the same thing, much like with the words ‘matter’ and ‘energy’ or the common metaphorical use of the words ‘head’ and ‘heart’, then to work on the mind is to work on the body and to work on the body is to work on the mind. To talk about exercising one to the exclusion of the other is meaningless. Once we overcome the dualistic notion of there being a mind on one side somehow distinct from a body on the other, then it becomes as valid to say “My mind feels good because I gave it a thirty minute jog” as to say “I nourished my body today by doing half an hour of algebra.”

I submit then that, since there’s no reason to believe that either mind or body has anything other than an entirely physical basis, the development of one compared with the development of the other is a needless distinction. It is in this spirit that I have decided to incorporate a health, fitness and nutrition guide on my site. To say I would like to promote your ‘mental’ wellbeing or your ‘physical’ wellbeing is to over-describe my aim. My aim is simply to promote your ‘wellbeing’. I hope I can go at least some small way towards accomplishing this objective with the following guide.

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