The majority of people go through life envying the rich and regretting the fact that they are poor. They are always wishing that they could be rich. And yet there is one form of riches that is within the reach of everyone who will do a little work for it. It is really worth more than gold. If you had it, you would not give it up for the gold, and countless rich men would give up a fortune to possess it; for there is no other such wealth as health.

You may call yourself “poor”, but let me tell you that there is no one as hard up as the rich man who has lost his strength and energy. Why, he is the poorest man in the world, except for the miserable wretch who is poor both ways, who has neither money nor strength. Perhaps it is not his fault if he has very little money. I know plenty of men who work hard and try to save money who still have almost nothing. But in the matter of strength and energy, some of our so-called poor men are rich indeed. When they have no strength, however, that is largely their own fault. Nature intended them to be strong even if not rich. And nature will give them strength and energy if they will only give her a chance.

The terrible part of it is that most people are quite satisfied to be “poor” in this respect. They are sorry for themselves because they have very little money or possessions, but they should be sorry and even ashamed of themselves because they have very little strength and energy. They have no sense of power within themselves, and so they want the sense of power by having a big house, powerful automobiles, a fine yacht, a private hydroplane, and a large business in which they are masters of other people working for them.

Here’s a man who is not satisfied with an ordinary good eight-cylinder car because it is not powerful enough for him. He must have a sixteen-cylinder car capable of going a hundred and twenty miles an hour. But as for himself—look at him! He is personally a little four-cylinder job and he is missing on two or three cylinders at that. He is my idea of a poor man. While talking about cars, I might confess that I have a powerful machine of my own, but I’m not proud about that. What I am proud of is what I have inside my skin. And if I were not a high-powered proposition in my own person, I would be ashamed to look you in the face. Once you get my point of view you will feel the same way, and then you’ll be bound to adopt a course of living that will make you rich instead of poor in strength and energy.

It is all in the way you live. It isn’t hard work to live my way—it is easier. Ife is easy to live when you have strength. You can stand up to your problems and burdens. Life is hard only when you haven’t the strength. And I’m talking about strength of mind and body and spirit, because they all go together. It is all so simple because it is just a matter of a viewpoint and the plan of life that goes with it. You don’t admire the shiftless man who cannot get himself organized. You think he is silly to live a haphazard way, with slovenly habits and no character. You want to live a well-organized life, thrifty, punctual, out of debt, getting somewhere. You want to budget your money, keep a bank balance, and get to work on time and all that sort of thing.

But—in the matter of your physical condition you are shiftless. In the vital business of keeping fit you live in a slovenly, haphazard way. You get soft. You get rusty. You creak. You will break to pieces when you are fifty, whereas you should be going strong when you are eighty-five, and then take it easy for another fifteen or twenty years. It is more important that you have a balance of strength and vitality than that you have a bank balance. Well, why not have both, but get this thing first and it will help you to get the bank account in good shape. I can tell you that I am not going to crack up at fifty. I was forty-for last October, and you may see by my photographs, taken at half past forty-four, that I am not even beginning to fall apart.

When I was in England last year there was a lot of concern about the poor physical condition of the people in general. Of course the reason why they were worried about it in government circles was the threat of war which is hanging over all Europe, and they are thinking of the military fitness of their citizens. It is not a question of being fit for business, fit for happy home life and accomplishment, but of being fit to fight for their country. Personally, I think it is much more important to be really fit to live than to be fit to die. It seems to me that a weakling is just as fit to die by powerful explosives or poison gas. However, England has made an appropriation of millions of dollars for the physical training of citizens, and has set up a Royal Commission to make plans for this purpose.

But the physical condition of the people in the United States is worse than England. They have much more interest in sports over there. We watch baseball games and football. Over there more people participate. They do more hiking and they ride bicycles when we ride in motor-cars. In the World War our Government drafted an army of three million men, and found that the majority of our young men were not physically fit. Suppose that our Government should make a study of the physical condition of our people today, without waiting for a war to arouse interest in the subject, what would we find? We would discover that our people are even worse off than the English. As a nation we are too much like the wealthy man who is rich in possessions but poor in health. In saying this I do not want to belittle my own country, but as a citizen of this greatest nation in the world this situation disturbs and worries me. I would like to see everybody in this country rich in strength and energy.

What is the matter with the majority of people who are contented to drift through life in a state of flabby weakness, more or less tired all the time? Is it pure ignorance? I cannot think like that. Do you suppose for one minute that most people don’t know that exercise will built strength? Why, every child knows that exercise builds muscle and energy and endurance. Surely, the poor physical condition of our people is not because they don’t know how they can gain strength. Then what is the matter with them? If you are among these people who are physically below standard, just why is it in your own case? Do you know? Have you ever stopped to think about it? You would feel humiliated if you thought you were mentally below standard. Your pride would be hurt too much if anyone thought you feeble-minded. Then why are you satisfied to be feeble-bodied?

To say it is mere carelessness, and to let it go at that, is loose thinking. The real trouble in most cases, I think, is the lack of any plan of life. For if you ever face this question and think it out, you will decide that you want to be at your best physically, just as you want to be capable mentally. In your heart you know that keeping fit comes first in any scheme of personal efficiency. If you have a plan of life you must know that you need a pattern of strength and energy. And as soon as you think your way into such a pattern of fitness, you will just naturally want to do the things that make you fine and strong and enduring. You will want a body that you will be proud of, and not one that you should be ashamed of.

You can put a period of exercise in your daily routine just as you include shaving. You cannot escape shaving, and so you do it and do not mind it. But you can just as easily put fifteen minutes or more of exercise in your morning routine, and you will not mind it. Indeed you will like it because you feel so much better. I know a man in his fifties who has made his setting-up exercise in the morning a part of his daily routine for thirty years. And of course it has kept him fit and young…

Written by Charles Atlas
This article appeared in the July 1937 issue of Physical Culture