McDermott: Is it worth it?

Scott McDermott’s weekly motivational and inspirational column about health and fitness

If you are like me, you face this decision daily. In real estate or investing, you call it ROI – return on investment. For a lot of things like sports or dangerous tasks, I call it risk vs reward. Is something worth doing?

A friend sent me a video link of Andri Ragettli from a ski team in Switzerland, doing the most crazy workout routine. Jumping from stability ball to stability ball, then over things, onto things and taking incredible risks second after second through a routine involving all sorts of challenges. Watching it, I could not help but respect the skill, and also think of the risk. Huge risks were ever present; broken ankles, torn knees, concussion etc.

So what is the reward that makes this worth it? We are talking about a world class, Olympic level skier who is training for a freestyle sport that requires laser-like focus and an ever expanding repertoire of tricks that defy gravity and amaze the judges. So in this case, for this person, that risk is worth the reward. If you watch the video then set up a bunch of stuff in your basement to try it for fun, I would dare say the reward is non-existent and the risk of permanent disability is highly probable.

Risk vs reward also comes into play in daily life as we relate it to health and fitness, however, many of the elements are not obvious. To make things easy, let’s start with the most apparent examples and move to the obscure.

If you go to a gym and choose a resistance exercise like a squat, you start with the bar at just 45 lbs and perform 10 warm up squats. Low risk, but a decent reward as your body warms up and gets into the zone for lifting. Excellent! Now add some weight and continue with another 12-15 repetitions. You maybe be feeling fatigued but capable at the end of the last repetition.

The risk is still low as long as your spine is in good alignment, feet stable, heels on the floor, head up, etc. Reward is a mild stimulation of the muscles to become stronger to manage this load in the future. Great! Add some weight and try it again. As long as form is good, then risk is low and reward is high.

Now let’s say you increase the weight to where the first 2-3 repetitions were good, the next few moderate. Now the lordosis (natural spinal curvature) is fading and your back is starting to flatten or round, knees are flexing outward or diving inward, head is down, shoulders rounding. It’s time to stop. The risk is a bulged disc in your back, a blown knee, or worse.

It doesn’t have to be that drastic either. If could be as simple as deciding to get back in shape and attending the toughest class you can find and trying to keep up with the fittest people in it. The risk is spending the next 5 days in pain or worse, with the reward being a little ego boost for a short while.

If however you attend a class and tell the instructor that you are new, or have been away for a while and need to start slowly, now the risk is reduced or eliminated. The reward is a stimulation of muscles to adapt, grow and repair. Flexibility will improve and your mood and hormones will start to self regulate in a positive direction.

How about food? Let’s review eating a great, healthy meal. Risk involved? The only thing I can think of is the time to prepare or perhaps some food safety things like handling raw chicken. With a little fore thought, that can be eliminated. The reward is clear: increased health and a well fed machine that can repair, build and move well. Risk low, reward high, easy decision!

How about a junk food meal that is full of processed things, sugar and bad fat? I am going to hit the rewards first, because that is how we think in the moment isn’t it? The ‘reward’ will seem to be the immediate satisfaction of the taste buds going bananas as the fat and sugar hit your mouth.

You might be at a party or with friends, all laughing and having fun or celebrating something. You might feel that little inner child celebrating the freedom to eat whatever you want in direct rebellion to your mom always trying to get you to eat properly.

By eating this kind of food regularly you risk things from the annoying to the life threatening. Heartburn, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, sleep pattern interruptions and other such bothersome stuff, all the way to cancer and death. Yes, I know, sometimes healthy people get sick, I am not saying that eating well is a cure or a total prevention, but I do believe it is a way to put things as far in your favour as possible. I am a solid believer in the occasional indulgence, but will always advocate that 80% of the time, you stay on target.

Make your choices with risk vs reward in mind and you will always be headed in the direction that suits you best.

Happy Training!


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