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Don’t Aim Too High

Over two thousand years, ago Hannibal crossed the Alps to conquer the Roman Empire in one of the most famous military campaigns in world history. Hannibal even had 38 elephants brought from his home in Carthage in North Africa (present-day Tunisia) to strike terror into the Romans.

Under conditions of severe cold and exhaustion, the soldiers, horses and elephants climbed along steep Alpine peaks and staggered ahead in deep, wet snow to reach the Po Valley in northern Italy, ready to start the great invasion.

Despite this grand prelude, Hannibal never succeeded in capturing Rome. He wandered around the plains of Italy with his elephants but lacked a long-term plan and the prerequisites to besiege Rome.

Even if few of us are thinking about crossing the Alps with elephants, we can learn a few things from Hannibal’s story. Many people make grand plans for lifestyle changes. Gym memberships for hundreds of dollars. New running shoes with specially cushioned soles. Bold New Year’s resolutions.

Ett par oanvända skor i handen som visar hur svårt det är att komma igång med träning

The Risk Is Aiming Too High

Unfortunately our most ambitious campaigns against bad health habits sometimes end up like it did for Hannibal. We stand there with our elephants but don’t conquer Rome. The shoes with specially cushioned soles are still squeaky clean on the rack and the expensive gym membership card is in the drawer, nagging at your conscience. We have simply aimed too high.

Large-scale projects are fun and exciting, but gradual changes are often more sustainable for improving health. Most people can make extreme changes for a limited time. But to make a long-term improvement in lifestyle, it is often more effective to connect changes to simple everyday routines.

It may be about taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting off the bus one stop earlier and walking the last stretch, bicycling more and driving less, getting an adjustable desk to be able to stand by the computer, or doing an exercise program in front of the TV news.

You are probably already doing many of these things but there is always room for increasing everyday exercise. It is also a good basis for gradually adding other forms of exercise. Besides, studies show that everyday exercise can actually prevent cardiovascular disease.

Vardagsmotion kan förebygga hjärtkärlsjukdom diabetes och befrämja hälsa

How Did It Work Out for Hannibal?

His situation in Italy became increasingly precarious and his solders’ morale was low. Instead of coming to meet him on the plains of Italy, the sly Romans sent an army by another route to Hannibal’s home city of Carthage. He was then forced to leave Italy to return home and defend it.

There he suffered a great defeat, his elephants fled, and the Romans burned Carthage to the ground. What if Hannibal had been content with everyday exercise at home to start with instead of climbing the Alps?

What is the smallest step you can take to increase your everyday exercise?

More to come

We are about to launch the full English version of the Swedish medical university initiative, PriusHealth, providing daily thought-provoking questions to unlock how you relate to yourself, to others, the larger us, as the way to improve your health.

Available both as an open website and a full guided program, it will be launched summer 2017. If you would like us to keep you informed of its launch and thereby get free access to more content, then click here.

Keep me informed