(CNN)More than 50 years ago, I lifted my first Mr. Universe trophy on the stage of the Victoria Palace Theater in London, and I have been on a fitness crusade ever since.
Today, we all know those benefits. But 50 years ago, it was an uphill battle. Gyms were scarce, and the ones that existed were often inhospitable dungeons. Doctors warned against lifting weights, telling people it was bad for their health. I knew some movie stars who had discovered the benefits of building their bodies lied and said they were naturally muscular. Even some professional athletes avoided the gym, because of myths that lifting weights would make them musclebound and less mobile.
We have come a long way — more than 60 million Americans are members of health clubs, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, and there are almost as many gyms as there are grocery stores in our country, according to FoodIndustry.com. I love that there are now more accessible places to exercise, whether it’s a boxing gym or yoga studio.
But we can do so much more. Despite the constantly rising interest in health and wellness, we are plagued by an obesity epidemic; 67% of gym members never actually visit their gym, according to USA Today; and 80% of us will fail our New Year’s resolutions by February, according to US News and World Report.
We have more information available, more health products on the market, and more gyms than ever before, so why aren’t we healthier and fitter than ever before?
As someone who has been involved with the fitness industry for five decades, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer that question, and I’ve only come up with one answer. The current health and wellness industry is failing us.
Hard work and sound science has been replaced by fads, false promises, and magic pills.
When you’re promised something like “rock hard abs in 28 days,” told one special tea is all you need to lose those last 10 pounds or bombarded with flashy advertisements passed off as legitimate information, it’s easy to see why so many people just throw up their hands and give up.
It’s time for the fitness industry to be honest with people. A healthier, fitter America starts with you. There is no gimmick. There is no shortcut. There is no magic pill. Everyone’s fitness journey will be unique, but a healthy lifestyle takes commitment, patience and motivation.
I can already hear you saying, “Easy for you to say, Arnold. Fitness has always been your life and you’ve always been in top shape.”
But I had to work my way back from the bottom this year, and I learned a lot along the way. After I underwent open-heart surgery this spring, I had to use a walker. I had to do breathing exercises five times a day to retrain my lungs. I was frustrated and angry, and in my worst moments, I couldn’t see the way back to my old self.
Three months later, I returned to a film set to star in a new Terminator movie, and you probably know that there is no such thing as a weak Terminator. I’d love to tell you it was because of a certain product or workout or diet, but it wasn’t. I just kept walking. I kept breathing. I kept trying. I was lucky; I had a huge team around me supporting me the whole way. Eventually, I got into the gym and went through the motions without weights at first. I upgraded from walks around my backyard to bike rides. I didn’t worry about six-packs or bench pressing 500 pounds. My only goal was improving a little bit every single day, and eventually, all of those small improvements and all of that support brought me back to a strong, healthy place.
Going through that process showed me that many people put too much faith in big moments, believing they’ll suddenly flip a switch and be healthier. There’s no such thing. A healthier future is every tiny step we take, or every little rep, that ultimately leads us to our goal. We all think we can do it alone, but no one does anything alone. As I always say, no one is self-made. We all need support — even Terminators.
So here’s my challenge to you: Don’t wait for New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t wait for your own heart surgery or emergency. Start right now. And ask a friend to join you.
I’m not asking you to reject all the delicious food you’ll see this holiday season, because I would never do that either. I’m simply asking you to be better tomorrow than you were today, every day, and to inspire someone you care about to join you. It’s a simple resolution and it’s not as sexy as having a six-pack, but it’s the key to fulfilling the unfulfilled promise of our fitness crusade and repairing this broken industry.
Don’t chase the next big thing. Be better. Today. That’s all. If you and your training partner walked 5,000 steps yesterday, walk 5,001 today. If you ate one vegetable yesterday, eat two tomorrow. If you did a pushup for the first time today, do two tomorrow.
If you can join me in celebrating the small wins and supporting each other, we’ll create a healthier America, and our fitness crusade will be a success. And in January, when everybody else is scrambling, we’ll already be well on our way.
Let’s do this. Be better together. Today.
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