How Regret Can Transform Your Exercise

I’m grateful every time I walk through our basement. Every. Single. Time. The basement has a family room, two bedrooms, and a fairly large back area that’s great for storage.

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There was a time when the family room was nice and the basement felt spacious. But, that was a long time ago. A family of eight can do a number on a house and I struggled with the motivation to maintain it all. In the last decade, if I did any work on the basement, I always stopped once I reached “good enough.”

The basement became an easy place to store things like unused furniture, tools, and house renovation materials that might be needed later. It also became the repository for a significant amount of family heirlooms after my grandfather died.

And, none of it was organized.

We just sold our house. The most overwhelming part of getting ready to sell was finally fixing the basement. It had to be decluttered and all the deferred maintenance tackled. And, then renovated.

Today the basement looks great. The family room is a space I know the next owners will truly enjoy. The two bedrooms are nice and one of them also includes a bonus room that can be used as a connected office. The back part of the basement is once again wide open and almost empty.

I’ve known for a long time that we would be selling our house. My intention was to make 2020 the year I needed to get the house ready. I knew when the year started it would not be fun. And, that was before the pandemic hit.

Here’s why I’m grateful today every time I walk through the basement.

Early in 2019, a full year before I planned to get the house ready, I started work on the basement. Every day I decluttered just a bit. After months of consistent effort I could finally see some progress. A year later, the remaining work in the basement did not feel overwhelming as I fully dove into getting the house ready.

The 2019 version of me gave the 2020 version of me a gift. I decided to make life a little harder in 2019 which made life a little easier in 2020.

This has become a growing theme for me. What can I do today that will make life better for the future me?

Obviously, the concept of decisions and actions today having an impact on the future is not an original thought. But, I suspect our focus is usually more backwards oriented than facing forward. In other words, we feel the impact today of our past which can lead to regret.

I turned 60 this year. Retirement is starting to feel real now. So are some poor decisions I made years ago regarding our money. I wish I had made different decisions and I feel regret that I didn’t. Regret sucks.

Except when it doesn’t.

Here’s how. Regrets that I feel about past decisions motivate me to make decisions today that make life better for the future me. This includes relationships, money, and my health. Linger on this for a moment. Past regrets, as uncomfortable as they are, can be used as motivation today that eliminate future regret!

Even though aging is not fun, I’m fascinated by it. Our arteries stiffen as we get older requiring the heart to work harder. We lose about 10% of our aerobic capacity every decade after we turn 30. Our bones weaken and our muscles lose strength, endurance and flexibility. Aging impacts our brain, vision, skin, and so much else.

There’s a section in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes where the writer (believed to be King Solomon) poetically describes the aging process. He starts by imploring us to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, before THE DAYS OF TROUBLE COME…” He then describes what happens to the body when those days of trouble are here. It’s not a happy part of the Bible for me, but it’s also a real reminder of what’s coming.  

And, while not one of us can escape the aging process, should we live a long life, it is possible to improve the quality of our later years by taking action today. A growing body of research bears this out:

  1. The director of the Cardiovascular Research center says there have been studies indicating people in their 80’s who do between 20-45 minutes of cardio exercise every day have an aerobic capacity of someone 30 years younger!
  2. The Dallas Bed Rest Study involved men at age 50. These men were largely leading sedentary lives. They were put on a moderate level exercise regimen for six months. These same men were part of a more intense study when they were 20 years old so researchers had all their baseline data from 30 years earlier. After six months of consistent exercise, at age 50, all the men had the cardio capacity of when they were 20!
  3. Research from the University of Cambridge showed that people between the ages of 40 and 80 who increased their physical activity to 150 minutes a week were 24% less likely to die during the study period than those who did not.

Even if you feel regret because you are physically inactive, or not as active as you could be, it’s truly NOT too late to make life better for the future you. Use this regret as motivation to take action today that will benefit the future you.

I didn’t start taking my health and fitness seriously until I was in my late 40’s. While I may regret the money decisions my younger self made, I am grateful for the investments I made in my health. I’m already reaping those benefits and I want to keep paying this forward to my future self.

I’ve previously written about Jessica Slaughter who was in her 70’s when she started making investments in her future health. She was overweight and pre-diabetic. She started walking 3,000 steps a day in her little apartment and changed her diet. Jessica is now in her 80’s and reaping the benefits of the actions she took in her 70’s.

I’ve also told the story of Arthur Boorman who was overweight and barely able to walk because of injuries he sustained jumping out of airplanes while in the military. Told he was beyond help, Arthur found a yoga teacher who believed he could help. Today Arthur is lean and can run without difficulty. Imagine how grateful he is to his younger self who never gave up.

My wife’s grandfather was in his 60’s when I met him for the first time. Pappy was overweight and in poor health. Two years later, Ava’s grandmother died suddenly. The family was pretty convinced that Pappy wouldn’t last long, given his health.

I don’t know exactly how he did it, but Pappy surprised everyone. He lost weight and got active. He loved dancing and did it a lot. We were all happily stunned by the transformation.

More than ten years later, on Christmas Night, Pappy was heading home from a day filled with family and friends. He didn’t feel well and pulled over. Moments later he suffered a fatal heart attack.

At his funeral we heard story after story from people we didn’t know about the impact and kindnesses Pappy had showed them. Did Pappy’s decision to take his health seriously in his 60’s help him live longer? I have no idea, but I do know it allowed him to live better.

I also know the longer we wait to get active the harder it is. And, for many this alone prevents them from doing anything. It’s so much easier to sit then get up and move.

But, the good news is it’s never too late to do something today that will make life better for the future you. I recommend trying The 30 Day Walking Challenge. If you are currently inactive, this Challenge will help you get started in a small way. The goal for you is to develop a fitness habit first. That leads to fitness momentum followed by eventual fitness transformation. Use your regret about staying active as motivation to start today.

If you already have some fitness momentum The 30 Day Walking Challenge has two additional levels to help you supersize what you’re already doing. The guide for the 30 Day Walking Challenge is FREE and you can start today!

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. While it’s not cheap, it’s less than a few months at the gym. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.


(By the way…if you use the link above to buy a Fitbit Inspire HR this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)

Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions.

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