By Cassie White
Dear 20-year-old Cassie,
This is the last thing you want to hear, as you sit there, hungover, probably on a Tuesday, with a hand-rolled ciggie between your fingers.
So I’ll get to the point: quit that rubbish and get moving.
I don’t care what you do, just stop drinking, stop smoking and get off the couch.
You don’t know this right now, but the longer you keep up this lifestyle, the harder it will be to shake. Harder for you than many others as you’ve inherited the alcoholic gene that runs down both sides of your family tree.
Right now you tell yourself being fit and healthy isn’t something you care about, because you’re young and think it doesn’t matter. But go a little deeper and you know this feels important to you.
You have this ‘too-cool-for-school’ image you wear like a mask. The thing is, not caring isn’t who you are. You are just too scared to try in case you fail.
It’s true, you weren’t a sporty kid in school. You came last in sports carnivals, got picked last for team sports.
In high school, you managed to weasel your way out of every HPE class and compulsory sports carnival to save yourself the embarrassment of failing.
It is easy to understand why you put up this ‘too-cool’ front. But want to know something? None of that matters now.
So what. Just because you weren’t sporty, doesn’t mean you’re not athletic.
Right now, 15 years in the future, you still think team sports suck. But now you know there are so many other ways to be fit and healthy.
You’ll grow to appreciate your body for what it can do – and how it enables you to live the life you do.
Weight training, yoga, rock-climbing … these are all forms of exercise you love.
Screw school sports carnivals – you can deadlift more than your bodyweight and hang out upside down.
You can work on your feet every day, train hard, teach yoga, be a writer and still have energy left to lead a meaningful life.
This might seem totally outrageous right now, as you try to piece together last night, but the profound effects of being fit and healthy will make you want to share it with others. Exercise will become your career.
Yep, wrap your foggy head around that one.
Why? Because exercise is fun. Sure some aspects of it still leave you cold, but the myriad benefits you gain from being fit far outweigh the sore muscles and lack of motivation.
Let’s be clear, I’m not just talking about the physical aspect. Much more importantly, exercise is going to give you something positive to focus on when anxiety starts to bury you.
Yeah, that awful feeling you get. The one that makes you …. it’s called anxiety. Not only is there a name for that feeling. You can also get better at managing it.
It feels 100 per cent better to channel your energy into positive, empowering activities, than the incessant and unhelpful thoughts stuck on loop in your brain.
I wish you already knew this. It could save you from that ever-tightening knot in your gut and your inability to enjoy the real world.
During your early twenties you’ll have zero energy or lust for life. You’ll be painfully uptight and your loved ones will walk on eggshells around you.
But it gets better. Your thirties will make up for this.
In the next few years, researchers will confirm that regular exercise greatly reduces depression and anxiety. Just like alcohol abuse increases your risk of both — along with numerous other chronic diseases.
But honestly, do you need science to tell you that? Let me give you hindsight early: being anxious and drunk isn’t a good life. Or any kind of life.
Making (mostly) positive choices around your health leads you to make better choices in other areas of your life, like relationships, money and living according to your values.
It kick-starts your desire to be more mindful about your decisions, rather than acting on autopilot, just doing whatever is easiest and most comfortable.
When you experience health issues down the track, you’ll be able to know your body is going to serve you well. So listen to it and learn everything you can. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can ever really know what’s going on inside of you.
You are responsible for your health, and relying on doctors isn’t good enough.
I’m not just talking about exercise — this is in every area of your wellbeing. One of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from working with people is that burying your head in the sand about your health always comes back to bite you.
So please, pour the cheap red wine down the sink, stub out and get moving. You will need to push yourself but you can do this.
Don’t get me wrong, you still love a drink or two, but you will learn when to pack it in. Vintage Cass comes out for special occasions only.
Besides, Sunday mornings swimming at Bondi or doing a yoga class with a girlfriend are so much better for your soul than lying in bed full of self-loathing and feeling like hell.
It’s time to grow up, Cass. Take it from someone who’s older and (a little bit) wiser.
I love you,
Cassie White is a Sydney-based personal trainer, yoga coach and health journalist.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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