Writer: Richard T. Bosshardt, MD, FACS
“Looking good is the best revenge.” This has become a popular saying in some circles. I can think of several instances in magazines and the internet recently where some celebrity has been referred to as having a “revenge body.” This usually means they look great and, in some unfathomable way, this evens some score with a former boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. On one hand, it just fuels the impression that we live in a youth-obsessed, looks-obsessed culture. On the other, it speaks to our innate desire to look our best.
It is a natural and normal human desire to look good. We are a social species, and part of this is fitting in among our peers. Most people pay attention to how they dress, groom themselves, personal hygiene, and so forth just for this purpose. An integral part of this is keeping your body fit and in good shape. As a plastic surgeon, I see the ultimate expression of this desire in people who choose to undergo surgery for the purpose of looking better. It becomes a bad thing only when it leads to extremes or unrealistic expectations.
The mind/body connection is an accepted medical fact that no one really disputes. We know that our physical well-being affects how we feel emotionally. People who are fit and healthy are more likely to be happy. The reverse is true as well since our emotional state can produce real, measurable physiological effects. We know people who are sad or depressed have a higher likelihood of dying of heart disease or cancer.
On a daily basis, we are bombarded with the message that to look and feel our best we need to use this product or that; take these supplements; eat or drink this potion; use a certain deodorant, toothpaste, perfume, makeup, or skin care line; wear these clothes; drive this car, etc. Everywhere, people are searching for a magic bullet, or bullets, for looking their best. Many plastic surgeons, and other physicians who promote cosmetic procedures in their practices, are guilty of pushing the idea that looking good means getting Botox, injectable fillers, skin peels, and/or cosmetic surgery. In all of this, I believe something has been lost.
As a physician, I am convinced that people who devote some of their time and energy to staying physically fit are not only healthier than their sedentary peers, they look better as well. Regardless of your features and natural physical gifts, or lack thereof, you will look more attractive if you are fit than if you aren’t. People who are physically fit walk, move, and carry themselves differently than those who are not. They walk with a proud carriage—head erect, shoulders back, good posture—firm core, muscled arms and legs, and a definite spring in their step. Compare that to someone who moves around stoop-shouldered, back hunched, with a doughy pot belly, thin arms and legs, and a slower gait, sometimes even a shuffle. It is not a pretty picture.
Does this imply everyone should be a ripped gym rat, marathon runner, or elite athlete of some sort? No! Relatively few people have the time, inclination, and discipline to reach elite levels in any physical activity. Everyone, however, has the same 24 hours in each day and can choose to use some of the time to get fit and stay there. It can be done in as little as an hour several days per week. Most sources recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (you can speak in full sentences while doing it) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (you can’t speak in full sentences) per week as a minimum. What you do is not as important as doing something.
There really is no excuse not to exercise. Wheelchair-bound paraplegics do it. Harried young moms with small children find time for it. Busy executives make time for exercise. One couple at a local YMCA was in their 80s. Obese, sick individuals turned their lives around by the simple act of getting off the couch and out of the fridge and taking baby steps leading to a regular exercise program.
Although progress is a wonderful thing in many ways (I am typing this on a laptop computer with more capability than NASA had when we landed a man on the moon in 1969!), it brought us to where most of us do not engage in any physical activity to get through our daily routines. This produced incalculable harm, including a population of people two-thirds of whom are overweight, and half of those are obese.
People who have not exercised for years are like the apocryphal frog in the pan of water on the stove. They don’t know that they don’t feel or look their best because it has happened so gradually that they no longer know what it is like to feel truly good and look truly great.
As a physician with 40 years in medicine, 28 of these as a plastic surgeon, I know when people are fit and feel good, they also look good. The surest way to feel good is to be physically fit.