It’s hard for me to separate the old reasons for being healthy with the new ones that are still developing. The old reasons were shallow one–I was actually convinced at times that if I ran enough and did enough bicep curls, I could then go bake out in the sun until I was a fierce maroon color (since I can’t tan), and I would look enough like some bald actor like Vin Diesel or Bruce Willis, and a lot of women would find me appealing. Generally speaking, I would end up hurting my back from not lifting the dumbbells properly. If I put on any bulk at all, it usually would just make me look a little pudgier rather than ripped or stacked (there has never been much of a visual difference between the fatter me and the more muscley me). I might run enough to where I could survive a half marathon at 8.5 min miles. If I spent enough time out in the sun, my skin would get pretty damaged and I would start to look ten-fifteen years older than I really was. For some reason, none of this ever deterred me from trying to do it again and again each year. I may have had a little body dysmorphia or whatever they call it, where I would convince myself from looking in the mirror that I was starting to look like something I was not. Digital photos would usually wake me up to the fact that I was never going to look like a muscle-bound superhero.
After marriage, I have made many attempts to run for healthy reasons, or to go running just to prove to myself that I could still get in good enough shape to run another half marathon. But, most of these attempts have lasted no more than three-six weeks. During many periods of marriage, I find myself not really motivated to care about my health at all. When I moved back to Austin and started going to grad school, I kind of had an impetus to get back in shape that was more along the lines of the superficial motivations from when I was single–I hated the thought of being the old guy on campus who wasn’t a professor or dad of a student. My white hair, which began to appear when I was sixteen, now makes me look about sixty sometimes. I really do feel pretty old sometimes when I sit in the same classroom with people who were born the year I graduated from high school.
But, I would also like to think that I am starting to have a more healthy reason for wanting to stay healthy–I like how I feel and am generally less depressed when I run and work out. You would think that I would never abandon an exercise regimen because of this, but it isn’t quite the same feel-good as drinking beer and eating ice cream, unfortunately (or the entire world would be in excellent shape, of course). I think there is also a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing some type of physical activity as well. I can write all day long, and I can study and pass classes for the next few years, but I am not quite accomplishing something like I am when I can see my daily activity and know that I’ve done more than just cerebral things plus a little volunteering and spiritual activity now and then.
I wish that I could say I want to be around for a long time for the sake of my son, but I don’t think that is quite enough of a motivating factor. With my genes, I will either die at 61 or die at 91, depending on whether I inherited my mom and grandmother’s cancer gene–all of this is with exercise aside. I suppose if I really pigged out on sweets and never moved my body at all I could kill myself off a lot quicker, but the point is that I am in all likelihood going to be alive to see my son get married and have his first child (or get his PhD or first professional job that makes him independent, etc. if he decides not to marry and have children). My goal is to outlive my Dad so that he doesn’t have to see any more of his sons die, but not to outlive my son, as I don’t think I could handle seeing him go before me after watching how my parents coped with losing two of their sons and seeing a third one pretty much disown them.
All of that to say, that the longevity motivators that are in place for some people my age haven’t kicked in yet. I am still more inclined to want to be healthy and get in shape because it pleases me to look in the mirror at a healthier, younger-looking man than to look at a fat old, weary soul.