Everything starts with the body. It's a philosophy I've carried with me since I became a trainer years ago. Whether it's genetic or lifestyle oriented it almost always starts with the body. In simplified terms, almost every culture believes we should treat our bodies as temples. What we put in our bodies affects what we get out of it. The same can be said for what we do with our bodies physically. What we do or not do will affect our strength and endurance.

I've thought about this philosophy a lot recently after talking with a number of folks with lower back and knee pain, two of the most common injuries. As I got a chance to fully understand the history and reasons for their suffering, it was clear to me that much of it was a direct result of non-physical activity and poor diet. It's not always the easiest thing to hear that the pain you're enduring is something you've caused. But one thing that I've learned is that the best way to help yourself is to know yourself, and if you know that the things you are doing or not doing are hurting you, then you can change them. Add a half hour of exercise to your daily routine, take control of your diet, add vegetables, whole grain, and protein to your diet, and cut back on foods with processed sugar and unhealthy fat.

Someone once asked me to define my "everything starts with the body" philosophy. I told her to list the most common illnesses she knew. She wrote down: the common cold, hypertension, depression, and type II diabetes. I then asked her to list any preventative measures she knew (even any she heard me say at one time or another). For the cold, she wrote down "eat foods with lots of vitamin c and dress warmly." For hypertension and type II diabetes, she wrote down "practice a healthy diet and get exercise," and for depression, she wrote down "exercise regularly and eat a diet rich in magnesium and iron with foods like salmon and black beans." After writing all that down, I asked her to repeat the question and think about how the body plays a role in every answer she provided. At that point it was clear to her. The body truly is our temple. How we treat it will affect what we get out of it.

Now I don't mean to simplify things, I always encourage my clients and people I meet to get yearly physicals and fully understand their genetic makeup. Because once again, the more knowledge you can obtain about common illnesses in your family, the better you can protect yourself and reduce the chances of the same illnesses affecting you. And as for the illnesses we can control, in my own family my grandmother wasn't a personal trainer or nutritionist, but the way she took care of herself and her family made it appear to me as a child that she had knowledge that others did not. Later I came to understand that her daily walks and insistence on preparing foods like the ones I mentioned were simply a way of life, passed down to her by her family growing up in Jamaica.

There's so much we can do for ourselves when we know how. Understanding that we can reverse a situation and often prevent it are more than enough reasons for us to understand our bodies and make a difference. If you knew then what you know now, would you have changed a thing? Of course. Now here's your chance. Take it.

Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw Fitness, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, a BLS CPR instructor, and a fitness model. He can be reached at www.michaelroyshaw.com