Blog Article 

 19—Stay Active 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Exercise changes your body. More than that, it changes your mind. And when it changes your mind, it changes your attitude. By changing your attitude, exercise changes your mood. Make fitness a part of your daily ritual, like brushing your teeth. If you exercise every day, you’ll feel stronger every day. When you feel stronger, you bolster your commitment to overcoming struggle.

As evidenced by the bad decisions of my youth, I lacked discipline as a young man. Prison changed my mindset. I learned the importance of being active. Staying active helped to boost my self-esteem and get me on track toward a better life.

I’m convinced that a dynamic and active adjustment helps anyone work toward conquering struggles. A person must become comfortable with being uncomfortable, knowing that the capacity exists within each of us to adjust.

I served about 12 months in a county jail before the US Marshals transferred me to a high-security penitentiary. 

While in jail, we were locked in a pod without fresh air. Once I got to prison, I could step outside and enjoy a recreation yard. In my early 20s, at the start of my sentence, I kept active with weight training exercises.

By working out every day, I had goals to work toward. My friends and I aspired to build strength and size. We measured our progress with the bench press, always aspiring to build up to three plates on the bar, pressing 315 pounds. Others in prison had Herculean strength, capable of pressing four plates or 405 pounds for multiple repetitions. 

As the years passed, my routine changed.

By the time I reached my early 30s, I switched up my exercise routine. Instead of devoting so much energy to weights, I incorporated more running and bar work into the exercise routine. 

Running helped me feel active and unrestricted. I could listen to music or talk radio as I ran loops around the track. I increased my distances, advancing from five miles to ten to 20 miles. 

Those runs fortified my spirit, empowering me to make it through a long sentence.

When I moved into my mid-40s, authorities transferred me to a minimum-security camp. I made friends with Greg Reyes, a former CEO who served time for a white-collar crime. We became close friends.

Before surrendering to the camp, the stress of going through the criminal justice system traumatized him. He gained 100 pounds. Greg and I began running together. 

The encouragement helped him run a five-mile distance for the first time. A few months later, we ran ten miles. 

While talking one day, Greg told me that he’d like to run a marathon distance. I invited him to run a marathon with me that weekend. He laughed, telling me that people had to train to run a marathon distance. 

A person who didn’t serve time in prison might follow that guidance. I didn’t. 

As people in prison, I suggested, we could chart our course. That weekend, we ran 15 miles together. The run went so well that we agreed to run 26.2 miles the following weekend.

Up until that time, in the spring of 2011, I’d never run a marathon distance. I’d run 20 miles on several occasions but never 26.2 miles. 

Running that distance with my friend Greg brought me a sense of liberty. We empower ourselves when we work to empower others. Staying active strengthened my mind as I worked through the final phase of my sentence. 

After we completed the first marathon, I started running much longer distances. I ran daily, typically logging between 300 and 400 miles each month. Before transitioning to a halfway house, I ran 700 miles in my final month. 

Staying active, I’ve found, could help me build strength.

  • How do you view the power of staying active?
  • In what ways would staying active influence your mindset?
  • How do you measure your activity level?
  • What would the term “being intellectually active” mean to you?
  • In what ways does working toward a goal with a friend influence your adjustment?

Word of the day: fortify / Define fortify:

Use fortify in a sentence:

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