Updated: Mar 2
What if a two percent investment of your time could add a decade or more to your life?
Two percent doesn’t sound like much, right? Think about it. Two percent of a dollar? A couple of pennies won’t set you back. You’ve probably lost more coins to the crevices of your couch. You wouldn’t think twice about investing just two percent of a dollar into a project that would yield even five bucks.
What if a two percent investment of your time could add a decade or more to your life? According to the American Heart Association, dedicating two percent of your day to exercise—roughly thirty minutes each day for five days a week—could help extend your life by more than a decade.
“Those who don’t find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.” - Edward Stanley
According to the American Heart Association, researchers found that "50-year-old women who engaged in all five low-risk factors [never smoking; exercising for 30 minutes a day at a moderate to vigorous level (including brisk walking); having a normal body mass index; eating a healthy diet; and consuming a moderate level of alcohol] lived an average age of 93.1 years, 14 years longer than women who adopted none of the lifestyle factors. Men at age 50 who adopted all five factors lived to an average age of 87.6, or 12.2 years longer than men who had none of the five low-risk factors.”
Let that sink in. Up to fourteen more years of moments with your family. Another decade or more of laughter with your friends. All in exchange for 150 minutes of exercise each week. That could be a walk, a run, a dance class, or hitting the weights at the gym—all for the gift of giving your daughter away at her wedding. My dad had a great view from heaven the day I became Mrs. Washington, but I know he would rather have been at my side, walking me down the aisle. Instead, a single white rose sat in a chair where he would have been sitting. Dad died from heart disease, exacerbated by obesity and diabetes, five years before my wedding. I often wonder, would two percent have saved his life?
The data I’m about to share with you is daunting, but we need to know what we’re facing. Obesity is a contributing factor to most of the top ten causes of death in America, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. I know that’s discouraging, but here’s the good news. According to the American Heart Association, eating healthier and exercising could prevent 80 percent of heart disease and stroke cases. Those are incredible odds in our favor. Our decisions can save our lives.
The Good Fight
More good news—we don’t have to climb Mount Everest to be healthy. As I’ve shared with you, I started my journey after the blood pressure diagnosis by walking. Once I could walk up to five miles without feeling pain in my lower back, I tackled the elliptical machine. I looked like a wobbling hot mess at first, but I kept trying until I felt like I was gliding with ease.
Then, I set my sights on a group fitness class. I had to give myself a new challenge, but I was incredibly nervous.
What if I can’t keep up?
What if I don’t make it through the class?
What if they look at me funny?
What if I look like an idiot?
What if I fail?
All the doubts raced through my mind as I searched for a list of classes to try at my gym. My eyes stopped at “Body Combat.” Wasn’t that what I was doing —fighting for my life? I was well over 200 pounds at the time, but I swallowed my pride and had the Epsom salt on standby.
The first class kicked my butt. I couldn’t keep up with all the punching and kicking. I was tempted to slide out the back door and never look back when the instructor, Jeremy, shouted, “Remember what you’re fighting for!”
I was fighting to save my life. I was fighting to show my dad I learned from his mistakes. I was fighting to break generational chains in my family. I was fighting to show myself I could do it.
I made it to the end of the class alive, to my surprise, and as I was leaving, Jeremy pulled me aside. He encouraged me to get boxing gloves to wear during class. He said it would help me feel empowered—like I was really in the ring.
His advice reminded me of the gift I gave to my dad about a year before he died. I bought him a pair of red, white, and black boxing gloves to encourage him to fight for his own life. And while his battle didn’t end the way I hoped, I gloved up for my own fight with a pair of black gloves trimmed in red. When I wrapped them around my hands for the next combat class, I felt like fighter. Every punch, kick, and “hi-yah” exploded from my body. I was determined to win.
Those gloves put up a good fight for years. I wore them until nearly every stitch came loose. I didn’t want to let them go, but when calluses formed on my hands in the places where the gloves were falling apart, we had to part ways. I just couldn’t toss them aside, so my husband surprised me with a beautiful glass case to keep my magic gloves on display.
I encourage you to find or create something with a deep, personal connection to keep you going. It could be a special yoga mat, a workout shirt, a baseball cap—or special fighting gloves. Print out a picture of your children and pin it to your gym shoes. Or write down a goal to reach in the next thirty years, like running around the playground with your grandchildren. Tuck it inside your gym bag. Keep your “why” in sight.
Working Out is Worship
Working out isn’t only about working up a sweat—it’s an expression of gratitude. When we hear the phrase “praise and worship,” we often think of Sunday morning in church. Hands lifted. Feet stomping. Organ playing. Voices singing “Hallelujah!” as the choir hits those notes that send a wave of gratitude through your heart, body, and soul. It’s all an expression of gratitude. It has the power to unlock joy and ease burdens. Studies show that expressing gratitude helps us live longer, too.
Gratitude is not limited to—or measured by—an outward display in a church pew on Sunday morning. Working out is worship, too. Every time we step on a treadmill, stair climber, or shake our hips in a Zumba class, we’re saying “thank you” for the gift of life.
Just like we sing and shout in church, I believe running, jogging, walking, lifting, and lunging communicate the same message. Building a bridge between exercise and my spirituality helps keep me focused. It’s a blessing to move our bodies, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.
Love Is a Verb
I didn’t know what self-love looked like until I stepped foot on this journey. At the height of my unhealthiest habits—when I was regularly eating overstuffed boxes of Chinese takeout on the couch—I thought I was loving myself by doing what felt good in the moment. The euphoria fled when the totality of my decisions detoured me to the doctor’s office for hypertension. Hearing the doctor say I had dangerously high blood pressure at such a young age was the “come to Jesus” moment that changed everything.
Love is honoring the gift of life by moving your body. Love is being patient with yourself along the way, no matter how long it takes to get it right. When I embraced what loving myself looked like, I saw discipline as a beautiful expression of love, too.
Will Smith—years before he slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards (and to be clear, I don’t think his assault was okay)—actually had great advice about discipline. I’m sure he wishes he used his own words on that fateful night at the Oscars, but it’s not too late for us to apply this wisdom in our own lives.
“… Self-discipline is the definition of self-love. […] when you say that you love yourself, that means that you have behavior toward yourself that is loving.
“It’s like you say to yourself, hey man, look, I know you want to eat that pizza and it’ll be really good, you know, but I can’t let you eat that man ’cause if you eat that pizza you gonna feel like [expletive]. You know? And I just, I love you too much to let you eat that.
“And I think the word discipline has kind of gotten a bad name. We think about it in terms of punishment. I’m not talking about discipline in that way. I’m talking about discipline in the sense that you forego immediate pleasure for the exchange of long-term self-respect.
“Self-discipline is self-love. If you want to be happy, you have to love yourself. Which means you have to discipline your behavior. The road to sustained happiness is through disciplining your behavior.”
Discipline is self-love. Understanding that puts “two percent” into perspective. This isn’t about wiggling your way into those skinny jeans—it’s about loving yourself where you are, as you are, and giving that “two percent” to keep you around a little longer.
I know it’s hard to make changes, even when we know it’s for our own good. We can find a million excuses not to exercise, but we can’t exchange any of them for more time on this Earth. Focus on all you have to gain by stepping outside of your comfort zone—a longer life, more moments with your family. If my dad had known obesity would his life at just fifty-seven years old, how different would his decisions have been? It is too late for him, but it’s not too late for you to give just two percent. Your life depends on it.