The secret to life is simpler than you think

The secret to life is simpler than you think
Megan Brown, Ph. D., teaches a class at Mind the Mat Pilates and Yoga. (Photo Credit: Kevin Costillo)

By Megan Brown, Ph.D.

Do you want to know the key to life? More specifically, do you want the secret to living a happier, longer life, with a balanced mental state and more energy so you can perform better at work, at home, at saving the world – or at whatever you were destined to do?

Looking ahead, do you want to wake up every morning at age 85 and not only be able to dress and feed yourself, but also be able to catch a plane to travel the world? Clearly, the answer to all of these questions is “yes.” Below are simple steps to help with this journey.

The key to life is simple, and there’s no pill, book, machine, cleanse, TV show or podcast that will do the trick. The key to life is good, old-fashioned exercise. You knew I was going to say that, right? But it’s true. We have to exercise consistently in order not to die. Sorry, but I feel like I have to practice some tough love here, so hear me out.

Let’s listen to science. A 2018 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, “Cardiorespiratory fitness is inversely associated with long-term mortality with no observed upper limit of benefit.” Translation? We humans have to practice sustained exercise habits in order not to die earlier than we should. Time magazine reported on this study with a more blunt title: “Not Exercising May Be Worse for Your Health Than Smoking, Study Says.” See what I mean?

Okay, so now that I have your attention, I’m not going to leave you alone on this. If I taught a course, I’d call it “Living to Live 101.”

Work out every day

Yes, I’ve said this before, and I’m going to keep saying it until I see it happening. Does this seem impossible? If it does, that’s only a mindset. You already brush your teeth, shower, shop online and read the Alexandria Times daily. Why is exercise not on that list?

Carve out time in your day. At first, this will seem frustrating. You will feel annoyed to have to stop the normal flow of your day to exercise. But, if you stick with the mindset that exercise is your daily routine, pretty soon you’ll find yourself planning your day around your workout instead of planning your workout around your day. You will actually start to look forward to it. I promise. What’s the duration? It can range from 20 minutes to an hour.

Try to dedicate three to four hours a week to moderate to vigorous exercise. What does that mean? Moderate: you can talk but not sing. Vigorous: you’re working hard enough that you can still talk but only a few words at a time. If you consider yourself to be out of shape, work your way up to this.

Stop worrying about what to do and just do

There’s so much information out there and so many opinions, and I definitely have my own. However, keeping it simple is the best means to get into a routine. Pick two to three exercise activities that you enjoy. If you hate rowing machines, don’t do a rowing machine; if you hate running, please don’t run. If you like to cycle, practice yoga and lift weights, focus on those styles of exercise and mix it up. For example, I love Pilates, dancing and running. I mix up those three things and add in one cycle class a week.

I know what you’re thinking: “But you own a fitness studio, it’s easy for you.” No, for years I never participated in my own classes or Mind the Mat’s. I was in the same boat as you — I still had to carve out time to work out every day. Keeping it simple like this and sticking to what I love to do helped shape my love for working out.

Plan ahead with friends

This is also not a new concept, but it works. My entire life and career have been focused on exercise and I still need this accountability. Every Thursday I schedule a class with friends. We text each other when we’ve registered, and we double confirm that each is going. Nowadays, if one of us misses class, we are devastated – it’s that important to us. With so many boutique fitness options out there now, you can definitely find something for you and your like-minded buddies.

Is that easier to digest? If you want suggestions of where to start, of course I am going to recommend our studios at Mind the Mat. We have carefully curated our schedule so that we have a program for everyone. But Alexandria is full of gyms and boutique fitness studios. There are many options out there to find the workout you love and to mix it up. Again, keep it simple and have fun. You’ll learn to love this new daily routine.

Megan Brown, Ph.D., is a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, mother and co-founder of Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga in Alexandria. Customized Pilates instruction is her specialty and she designs classes based on clients’ needs: athletes, new moms, rehabilitation or just for fun. Mind the Mat is located at 2214 Mt. Vernon Ave. For more information visit