“First and foremost, move your body everyday.” with Dr. William Seeds & Alex McBriarty

First and foremost, move your body everyday. Exercise is the closest thing to the fountain of youth that we have, and everyone has access to it in some capacity. It could be a simple as a walk, but just moving your body everyday will dramatically improve your wellbeing in a variety of ways. Personally, I like […]

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First and foremost, move your body everyday. Exercise is the closest thing to the fountain of youth that we have, and everyone has access to it in some capacity. It could be a simple as a walk, but just moving your body everyday will dramatically improve your wellbeing in a variety of ways. Personally, I like to set a minimum amount of daily physical activity for myself; I call it my minimum activity plan (MAP). This is the minimum physical activity I need every day to feel my best. If I do more, great! If life gets chaotic, then I just try to reach this minimum. Each person’s MAP will be different, and that’s the beauty of it. My minimum is a 2-mile run, and for my mother it’s 10-minutes on a stationary bike. In either case, we can feel good at the end of the day knowing we moved our bodies.

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex McBrairty.

Alex McBrairty is an online fitness coach and owns A-Team Fitness in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Obese as a child and teenager, he now helps clients find their own hidden potential. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. His articles have appeared in Breaking Muscle and The Path magazine, and he’s contributed to USA Today, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, and Runner’s World.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

Igrew up as an obese kid. I first began to notice I was different in the 2nd grade. We had a math problem that required you to know your bodyweight. One by one, every kid in the class went to the front of the room to get on a scale to get this number. I quickly realized my weight was double that of all the other kids in my class. Later, in junior high, for gym class we had a swimming lesson. I grew up in the water and was confident in my ability to swim. In fact, it was probably the only thing I knew I was good at. I volunteered to take the swim test first, in front of the entire class. I’ll never forget the looks of disgust, with some kids even turning their heads, as I took my shirt off.

My weight continued to climb until my senior year of high school. While my classmates were busy applying and being accepted into college, I was filled with apathy about my future. My grades were just okay, and I had no aspirations for what I wanted to do or become. While watching my classmates prepare for the beginning of their adult lives, one thing became abudnantly clear: if I didn’t change something, my life would likely continue like this forever. I couldn’t accept that.

On June 3, 2008, I began my weight loss journey — which would lead to more 80 pounds lost over the following 15-month period. This journey completely changed the trajectory of my life. After graduation I attended a local community college in Ann Arbor, working to get good grades in order to transfer to the University of Michigan. Although I had not been a top student in high school, when I got to the U-M campus I marched into the Honors Program office to ask if I could be an honors student, eventually completing an honors thesis in psychology on health and behavior change. At the University of Michigan I graduated in the top 3% of my class. I’m confident my change in mindset allowed me to succeed in college.

After graduation I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved fitness and I wanted to help people. After some gentle nudging from family members, I tried my hand at fitness coaching and fell in love. At 23 years old I started my own fitness coaching business, which has been my full-time gig ever since.

Fitness has dramatically changed my life, leading to experiences I would have never imagined prior to my transformation. My passion is to help others have a similar transformative experience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I was in junior high, we had an event called “portfolio day,” where professionals from the community would come into the school and complete mock job interviews with the students. Students would create a resume and dress professionally for their interview. (As an aside, when I completed this event I was chosen to be interviewed by an astronaut, and the interview was conducted via video chat — a big deal in the early 2000s.)

A few years ago I was contacted by the school to come back for portfolio day, this time sitting on the other side of the table as the interviewer. It was a unique and cool experience to talk to some of the students, to learn about their interests and what they wanted to pursue in the future. It was interesting to have experienced both sides, both as interviewee and interviewer. Also, talking with these students gave me hope for our future. They were all very bright — much smarter than I’m sure I was at that age.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I was teaching a bootcamp class at the time (what year?), with about 30 people in the class. I went to demonstrate a medicine ball slam exercise, but I didn’t first check how easily the medicine ball would bounce. There I was, in front of the entire class with all eyes on me, as I raised the ten-pound medicine ball overhead and with all my force slammed it into the ground. Instantly it bounced back and hit me square in the face! I did my best to play it off like everything was fine, but in the back of my head I just wanted to scream in agony. I learned that day to always check how much bounce the medicine ball has before demonstrating any exercises in front of the class.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I ended up in the fitness industry as an outgrowth of my own personal weight loss journey. in addition to losing more than 80 pounds over 15 months, I’ve been able to keep the weight off and maintain a heathy lifestyle. I’ve lived life on both sides of the line: An obese teenager who went on to compete in physique shows and run a marathon. It provides me with a unique perspective from which to help my clients. It allows me to understand the challenges they will face, both external (societal cues and social pressures) and internal (their own mental barriers). It allows me to connect with people who struggle with their weight, not just to be another in-shape trainer who doesn’t understand why the client can’t just “stop eating so much.”

I’m also able to bring my background in psychology to help my clients shift their mindset toward themselves and their health. I studied and conducted research on a variety of topics related to human motivation as a college undergrad, and that experience — plus my ongoing consumption of the latest scientific research — helps me understand how to motivate people to carry out and sustain the actions necessary to their success. I can help people with both the “what” and the “how.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’ll sound cliché, but my parents have had a profound impact on where I am today. I’m realizing this more and more these days. Many of my friends were forced into their career paths, or had to battle heavy suggestion to do or become a certain profession. I remember growing up my mother would always tell me and my brothers, “I don’t care what you do, but you have to do something and do it well.” I think this mentality gave me the freedom to explore my interests and to find a career doing something I get excited for everyday. Passion is a underrated quality to have, and I think having passion toward your career can make all the difference in your success. It’s the difference between having a job and having a mission.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

The three big obstacles are analysis paralysis, a faulty mindset, and a lack of good systems.

There is an abundance of information on health and fitness available on the internet. Much of this information is free and easily accessible. However, it’s precisely because there is so much information — much of it contradictory — that causes confusion. What is the right diet? What is the best workout? When should I eat? What foods should I avoid? Having a good amount of information is important for making informed decisions. However, there is a threshold where too much information leads to inaction.

The best way to overcome this analysis paralysis is to self-limit your choices and stick to whatever plan you choose. Most fitness programs work if they’re followed long enough to see results. As for self-limiting choices, studies show that individuals who eat the same meals everyday lose more weight. Having fewer choices and a clear plan means you don’t have to expend the additional mental energy to choose between a myriad of options, which often contributes to the mental fatigue that results in poor food choices later on.

Mindset is also critical: the most important trait a person can possess to be successful at anything is the belief that they are capable of being successful. Once you recognize that, you have more control over your behavior and decisions (in spite of external influences). You can take responsibility for these decisions and improve them. Exerting control over your actions is imperative to changing your daily behaviors, and is a prerequisite to establishing the routines that will ultimately lead to your success.

This mindset change will grow stronger as you build your confidence, and this happens over time. If you’ve ever played any sort of role-playing video game then you know you start as a character new to the world; no powers, no gear, and you probably barely even know how to move the character around in the virtual world. (Think of your first time playing Super Mario World — you probably died because you didn’t know how to jump). Yet, as you get more comfortable by defeating the small bosses and beating the easier levels, your character’s abilities grow and your understanding of how to manipulate the controls gets better. In short, you get better at the game. This holds true in life too. The more small victories you have, the more accomplishments you accrue, the better you get at attempting more challenging tasks. Your confidence grows as your abilities grow. Don’t expect to beat the game in your first try, but take comfort knowing that every setback, challenge, and win is preparing you to reach mastery level.

Lastly, people fail because they lack good systems. In this context, I’m referring to systems as the routines you create to enable the good, productive behaviors to occur. Just like a business has numerous systems to ensure its smooth operation, your life needs systems to ensure the smooth execution of these good behaviors. This is where things like meal planning and prep, creating a regular workout schedule in your calendar, and purposefully crafting your daily routine can support your success. These routines can ensure you “have enough time for exercise,” you prioritize effectively, and you prevent the little nuances of life from getting in the way of your progress.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

First and foremost, move your body everyday. Exercise is the closest thing to the fountain of youth that we have, and everyone has access to it in some capacity. It could be a simple as a walk, but just moving your body everyday will dramatically improve your wellbeing in a variety of ways. Personally, I like to set a minimum amount of daily physical activity for myself; I call it my minimum activity plan (MAP). This is the minimum physical activity I need every day to feel my best. If I do more, great! If life gets chaotic, then I just try to reach this minimum. Each person’s MAP will be different, and that’s the beauty of it. My minimum is a 2-mile run, and for my mother it’s 10-minutes on a stationary bike. In either case, we can feel good at the end of the day knowing we moved our bodies.

Get an appropriate amount of sleep. There is a growing body of research to suggest that being chronically sleep deprived is more detrimental to our health than we thought. In fact, research has shown that being awake for 24 consecutive hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit. Set a sleep schedule for yourself to get a minimum of seven hours each night. Create a night time routine to put your phone away, to shut off any screens, and to do something relaxing (like reading) to allow yourself time to wind down from the day.

Even though sleep is super important, occasionally have the sleepless night out with friends. Strong social ties are becoming more rare because we spend an increasing amount of our time on social media interacting with people virtually. The benefit to spending quality time with friends and family can’t be understated. You need these bonds to be happy and improve your wellbeing. Recently I was traveling through Rome, and coincidentally had friends who were there on their honeymoon. We decided to meet up at a restaurant to have dinner. Dinner turned into multiple bottles of wine, lots of laughs, and staying there until well past two in the morning. I had to be up early with a busy site-seeing schedule the next day. I opted to lose a little sleep, because how often do you get to hang out with friends in a foreign country like that? Be sure to make time for these social events, even if it means occasionally losing some sleep. I don’t regret my decision one bit.

Experience new things. I think a lot of people don’t understand the power of experiences to shape their lives. New experiences — everything from traveling to trying new skills — can make you happier, shift your understanding of the world, and can even keep your brain sharper. Not to mention, experiences can create fond memories and give you some great stories to share later on. I’m constantly seeking new experiences, whether traveling to new places (such as my recent trip to Italy), being adventurous (like running with the bulls in Spain last year), or trying a new activity (like the salsa dancing lessons I’m taking with my girlfriend). New experiences will enrich your life.

Find an activity to help you manage stress. Chronic stress can deteriorate the body. It can make it harder to lose weight, and lead to a variety of other physiological problems. (I’ve seen people so stressed their digestive system didn’t work properly.) Every person should identify one or more activities that helps them relieve stress. For me, its running outdoors. There’s something meditative about it for me, the rhythmic motion of my body liberates my mind and allows my thoughts to wander. My girlfriend, who hates running, chooses instead to participate in a meditation class. Some might opt to build puzzles, some like knitting, and others might choose to get regular massages. Whatever you choose, be sure to do it frequently to help manage stress levels.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

Exercise has a variety of benefits aside from weight loss.

1) Daily exercise can make you happier.

Studies are beginning to show that exercise has a powerful combative effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression. Daily physical activity can reduce these symptoms, boost positive feelings, and increase energy levels during the day — leading to greater feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

2) Daily exercise can boost your confidence.

Fitness is a skill, and one must put in the work to learn the exercises and allow their body to adapt to better withstand the stress. This process can act as a catalyst to help the individual develop what’s known as a growth mindset — the mindset that our abilities aren’t fixed, that we can develop ourselves with the proper amount of effort and practice. Seeing yourself get better in the realm of fitness translates into more confidence to try other challenging tasks, be it at work or in your personal life. You learn that just because you might not be that great on your first try, continual practice will see your performance improve and your goals eventually met.

3) Daily exercise can improve our memory.

Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and stimuates the production of hormones that aid the growth of brain cells. Additionlly, changes in the brain resulting from regular exercise have also been found to prevent the onset of many chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

Something to elevate your heart rate.

For some this might be running, for others it might be biking or swimming to reduce stress on the joints. In any case, choosing your preferred cardiovascular activity and performing it regularly to elevate the heart rate will help keep your heart strong.

Something to challenge your strength.

Muscle loss increases as we age. Performing regular strength training exercises helps to combat this age-related muscle loss. Additionally, being stronger can help avoid injuries and keep the connective tissues strong. The specific exercises will vary for each individual, but in general finding appropriate compound exercises — exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously — will help get the most bang for your buck.

Something to relieve stress.

New research is shedding light on how chronic stress is a detriment to our overall wellbeing. Finding stress-relieving activities, whether exercise-related or not, is critical to keeping your healthy in the long-term. Personally, I find running very meditative and relaxing. It allows me to shut out all the noise and sift through my thoughts. This helps me relax and to find new solutions to problems that might be bugging me. For others it might not be an exercise per se, but something more meditation-oriented. This could include taking 15 minutes of silence in the morning to meditate, or going for a walk in nature. For some people, intense weight lifting might be exactly what they need to decompress. In any case, finding an activity that helps you manage stress is crucial to your health.

In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?

There is certainly a need to balance intense physical work with adequate rest. Unfortunately, many gym injuries occur because people are pushing themselves too hard, too often. Here are some of my recommendations for improving training longevity and keeping yourself injury-free:

1) Know when push the limits, and when to pull the reins.

There is a time and place to see what your body is capable of, but this doesn’t mean every time you step foot in the gym. Constantly straddling the line of what your body can do will leave you vulnerable to injuries of overuse, injuries to the connective tissues that take longer to recover than the muscles, and increase the likelihood that your form will slip and put you in a compromising situation. Train hard, but you don’t need to set a personal record every workout.

2) Perform frequent strength training workouts.

Training with weights is known to increase bone density. This can help combat the natural decline in bone density that occurs with age (especially in women) and can lead to conditions like osteoporosis that leave you vulnerable to fractures. Not only will it combat the decline in bone density, but it can also stop or reverse the natural decline in muscle tissue as well. Frequent strength training will make you more impermeable to injuries in these areas.

3) Train your balance.

Like bone density, balance is another thing that declines as we age. Risk of falling is one of the biggest threats to people in the later years of their life. Maintaining and improving balance requires practice, and starting early can put you ahead of the game.

4) Implement core stabilization exercises.

Core stabilization exercises are exercises that require you to tighten your core to resist movement of the body (instead of creating movement). Think planks, side planks, and pallof presses, instead of crunches and sit-ups. Having a strong core stops overuse of the lower back, preventing and eliminating ongoing pain in that area. Additionally, training the body to resist unwanted movement is a key component to preventing injuries from daily activities.

5) Get adequate amounts of sleep.

While not directly a piece of exercise advice, getting enough sleep is important for giving the body a chance to fully recover between workouts. Sleep is when our bodies have the chance to do the most repairing of the muscle tissues used during the previous day’s workout. By shorting yourself on sleep you are also reducing the time available for this recovery process — leaving you prone to injury as time goes on.

There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?

I don’t typically recommend a specific “diet” to my clients because most of them don’t accurately reflect the realities of each person’s lifestyle. In my experience, most successful diets usually end up being a conglomeration of different eating styles and guiding principles, combined to create a unique approach for each individual.

For example, I love using food tracking as a tool for weight loss, but I have one client — a comedian, writer, and producer in Los Angeles — who frequently travels or attends social events. He frequently eats out, and because it’s part of his career it isn’t realistic to yank this away from his life. Instead, we’ve incorporated an intermittent fasting approach to help create the caloric deficit he needs to see progress, but also give him more flexibility when eating at restaurants with particularly high-calorie entrees.

I have yet another client who eats one meal a day. She suffers from an autoimmune disorder and has found that eating frequently actually causes an increase in inflammation and painful symptoms. She feels her best, physically and mentally, when she is fasting throughout the day.

Other clients might track their food and eat more regularly throughout the day to prevent binge-like snacking that results from those more extreme feelings of hunger. It all depends on the personality, history, lifestyle and preferences of the individual.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

One of my favorite books is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck,” By Mark Manson. I read this book at a pivotal time in my life, a time when I was really trying to define who I was and who I wanted to be. The message of the book wasn’t to stop caring abut things altogether, but instead, to define what was important for you to care about — what was worth investing your energy into — then letting go worrying about the things that weren’t important. This mindset shift opened up so many doors for me. It allowed me to be who I truly am without concern for what others think about my choices. That is a liberating feeling that I wish for everyone to experience.

While this book is my favorite, I try to take snippets of wisdom from every book that I read. I have a personal goal to read at least one new book per month (adjust this # as needed to be accurate).

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to help people rediscover confidence in themselves, to develop an unshakeable belief in their ability to do anything they set their minds to. I’ve seen a lot of people settle in life — in careers, relationships, etc — because they didn’t believe they had the capability to achieve greater things. I know if people are willing to do the work then they can follow the careers they dream of and experience the things that fulfill them. Fulfilled people make for a better world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Always in the back of my mind is the phrase “Momento Mori”: a Latin saying that translates to, “Remember you will die.” It sounds a bit ominous, but to me it is a daily reminder not to leave anything on the table. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some wonderful things in my life, the kind of stuff that makes for a great story (like entering a body-building competition, skydiving or running with the bulls in Spain). All of these experiences have helped me feel more fulfilled in my life, but they always begin with a fair share of doubt and uncertainty. In most cases it’s easy to walk away from them, to let the fear of the unknown end my journey before it even begins. In these moments I remind myself what’s at stake: not my safety, most of the time, but my soul. It’s the idea that a life unlived is no life at all, but a sort of purgatory if I were to watch these experiences pass me by. This phrase helps me keep things in perspective, and I often find myself reflecting on it whenever I’m tasked with making a difficult decision.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d have to choose my childhood idol, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I remember watching him in the WWE as a kid —

his charisma is off the charts. He’s very positive and motivating, and you can see that in everything piece of content he puts out there. He comes from humble beginnings, often sharing his “seven dollar” story and how he shifted his mindset to become as successful as he is today. That’s exactly the sort of mental shift I’d like to help people make in this world. I believe our missions align pretty well.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Readers can connect with my on any of the following platforms:

Facebook: @alex.mcbrairty

Instagram: @_ateamfit_

Subscribe to my free self-development e-magazine, The Art of Mastery Magazine: https://ateamfit.com/resources/mastery-magazine/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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