Health & Medicine

Jason Wanlass: 40 years and the fitness lessons I have learned

This year marks a major milestone for me: I officially turned 40. Gasp!

Honestly, it’s something I’ve looked forward to all year, and I fully embrace turning the page to the next decade of my life. It’s not because I now hold the societal justification to buy an expensive sports car or fall into any of the prototypical cliches of a “midlife crisis.” I view it as an opportunity to truly evaluate all that is good in my life and what I can do better, and hold tremendous gratitude for my health and wellness more than ever.

I was fortunate to learn the importance of exercise at a young age through sports and from my father. He pointed out to me early on how most people completely let themselves go once they reach adulthood and simply how absurd that was. At the time it was more of a matter-of-fact statement said in passing than a conscious attempt to make some profound life-altering point. Regardless, it was probably one of the most influential things he ever did for me, and the seed he planted ended up being life-altering anyway.

In addition to that, he was involved in all of my sports and stressed the importance of being physically conditioned to perform my best. Now, I can’t say that I always enjoyed it at a young age. In fact, I actually confused sore abs for a stomachache after one of my first “gym experiences” with him. (Hey, at least I got out of going to school!) But I sure as hell enjoy it now. And not just from a health standpoint. After 20-plus years of workout consistency, I have discovered many life lessons through exercise as well. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Exercise is the closest thing to the “fountain of youth.” I see the ball come off the bat and instantly recognize it as a shallow fly ball. With zero hesitation, I go from zero to fifth gear hitting a dead sprint, eyes never leaving the ball, without a doubt that I’m going to catch it, yelling “I GOT IT, I GOT IT, I GOT IT!” With perfect timing, I slide underneath it, making a diving scoop catch — robbing the batter of a cheap single.

I’m not recalling a play I made in an All-Star game back in my glory days. It actually was a catch I made this week in my rec league. Sure, one might question whether I’m being a little overly serious for a rec league, and honestly I probably am at times. But the point I’m trying to make it this: My level of fitness has allowed me to still move and perform with nearly the same speed and grace as I did in my 20s, and I can continue to enjoy activities that make me feel young and vibrant.

We all know the physical benefits of exercise, but it’s in these moments where I simply get lost — in the moment. And that holds the most value for me personally. I find a place where the everyday stresses that life can bring simply wash away in a state of timelessness. The physical attributes of fitness are what allow the mental feeling of being young to exist. For me that’s the “fountain of youth.”

Exercise is great mental therapy. There are moments where life can be really difficult and we are faced with great challenges. We can become overwhelmed by it all; unfortunately, more times than not, we sacrifice the time it takes to exercise. But what we fail to realize is that the mental therapy that exercise can provide often exceeds any of the physical aspects.

It’s still the best therapy I have ever found, particularly when I feel like my ass is getting handed to me on a daily basis. What I have found is it calms the storm inside, creates clarity and allows me to hear that inner voice guiding me on life’s journey, particularly during the tougher times. So when exercise seems like it’s the last thing you should do, in my experience it’s a signal for what you need the most.

Stepping away, letting the reins go and getting physical not only will bring mental relief, but also can often help you discover solutions to problems that you are encountering. And as if by some stroke of magic, the seemingly large problems that we have are instantly shrunken down to a more than manageable size.

Success is a result of our volume of work. We live in a society of immediate gratification and have come to expect everything given to us in a millisecond. But success doesn’t happen overnight. Whether it’s building a business, getting a degree or running a marathon, it takes time with consistent and purposeful effort.

Oftentimes people will say to me, “You make it look so easy.” There is a reason I do. It’s called 25 years of blood, sweat and tears. It’s the complete volume of work people are witnessing. And just like everybody else, I had my setbacks and personal struggles getting to where I am in every area of my life. It’s part of the process, but as long as you keep showing up and moving forward, you will reach success.

Exercise is a microcosm of how life works. The amount of work and effort you put into your exercise routine will determine how fit you become. Little effort — little results. Big effort — big results. And your body is essentially the byproduct of what you put in. You can’t become a lean, mean, fighting machine without the fitness to back it up. Period. Too many of us are overly concerned with looking like a supermodel when we should aspire to become more like a superhero.

Becoming stronger physically will make you stronger mentally and, most importantly, will carry into every area of your life. You’ll have the energy and drive to do better at work, be a better parent and spouse — basically a better person overall — and create a better life for yourself. It’s time we all stopped wishing and started doing. So breathe air into the areas of your life you want to thrive, and roll up your sleeves and go to work.

Not all pain is gain. On the flip side, sometimes too much of a good thing can be just be exactly that — too much. Injuries and nagging aches and pains are a signal that you are doing too much and need to rest. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m just now overcoming sciatic pain that has hindered me for nearly six months. It’s been a difficult challenge considering exercise is my therapy and my livelihood. But when it reaches the point that pain is exceeding all the benefits, it’s time to reel it in. I have found that sometimes less is more.

It’s been a tough wall for me to repeatedly beat my head against, but I now know that keeping a long-term perspective and finding better balance will allow me to continue on my fitness quest, even if that means taking a few weeks off. So listen to your body and respect what it tells you — it rarely lies.

Limitations are mostly self-imposed. Phrases such as “I’ll never be able to do that” or “I never have been much of a runner” immediately disempower you and limit your potential. What you believe you can and can’t do is essentially the blueprint you put out before pursuing any goal. Replace it with a more empowering question: “What do I need to do to get better?” Or “How can I get better?” Raise the bar on your expectations and go after it until you accomplish the task at hand. Then raise the bar again. You’d be amazed at what you are truly made of.

Get started and never stop — regardless of when. I don’t care where you are in life or how old you are. You can get started at any point and make a big splash. But you have to take action and get started. And do yourself a favor once you do: Never stop!

The roller coaster of starting and stopping is a difficult road and doesn’t usually lead to success. I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years now and the people who continually keep going and keep pushing even during the most difficult times stay on top. And I’ve seen it at all ages. It’s never too late. So begin now, be proud along the way but not complacent, and continue reaching beyond the illusion of limits.

Jason Wanlass, the owner of Champion Fitness Training in Meridian, has more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry. Contact him at or