true WELLth Podcast: Martin Pazzani Episode Transcript

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Stan Hall:

The true WELLth Podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones. Brighton Jones is the financial wellbeing firm that helps you align your wealth, your passions, and your purpose. Learn more about how you can live a richer life at brightonjones.com.

Martin Pazzani:

Our bodies are interesting. They respond to a little bit of stress the right way. If you stress your muscles, they grow larger. If you put the right kind of cognitive challenge on your brain, it grows new neural pathways, and you’ll have a more resilient brain. If you walk 20 minutes a day, you start to develop denser muscles and new capillaries that increase the bloodflow to those muscles, and they want more. So a coach can diagnose where you are and push you in the right direction to give you just enough and keep you progressing. And it all has to do with constantly challenging yourself to improve.

Stan Hall:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of true WELLth. The show where we look to experts and pivoters in the four areas of wellbeing, emotional, social, financial, and physical. Today’s guest, Martin Pazzani really emphasizes the latter area and takes us through his thought process on what makes a good physical life. Today, Martin is an expert and entrepreneur in the fitness and coaching sphere. Calling on his decades of mountaineering, he’s also an author of a book called Secrets of Aging Well: Get Outside. But this crusade for physical activity was not always Martin’s MO. What I think is most interesting is that Martin’s backstory does not start with the traditional resume of athletic expertise that often accompanies many coaches. His story perhaps is much more relatable, working his way up a corporate ladder, neglecting his physical health as a tradeoff for career success until he realized he needed a change. Let’s dive in.

Martin Pazzani:

Well, I was born in Brooklyn. My parents immigrated there from Italy and with most of my wife in the New York metropolitan area, worked most of my career in major Metro areas of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. I’ve also had some global positions, so I’ve been on seven continents and traveled extensively. I’ve accumulated about 6 million Air Miles over the years and worked in a variety of areas. I started out in big corporate world and in marketing, advanced up the corporate ladder to chief marketing officer. Worked for a time about 10 years on Madison Avenue in the advertising business. Actually became known for being a fix it person of both brands and companies and wound up then making a crazy leap into the music business for about four years, running that and trying to fix it and prepare it for the future. And after about 30 years of that, it sort of caught up with me.

Martin Pazzani:

I loved what I was doing. I love marketing, I love creative, I love building brands and companies. But the grind of it started to get to me. And in my early fifties, I started to feel like I needed to shake things up and, to use the classic word, to pivot. I was getting less and less away from my mountaineering and fitness activities and little by little gained five pounds a year here and there. And so it turned into I’m in my early fifties, I was about 40 pounds heavier than my fighting weight and burnt out from lots of plane travel and time zone shifts and just the struggle and wanted to pivot.

Martin Pazzani:

So I did two things. Not only did I become an entrepreneur, but I decided to get fit again and went on a self-improvement plan to shed all those extra pounds gained through plane travel and corporate dining and expense accounts and all that and got lean and mean again and resurrected my climbing career in my mid-fifties. So, yeah, that was a big pivot for me. And I think it was just in time, because when you get into your fifties, if you’re not concerned about longevity and fitness and how that’s going to impact how you live the rest of your wife, you can go on a downward slide. And I did not want to do that. So I think I caught it in time. And the last 10 years have been really exciting, actually.

Stan Hall:

Martin, we often talk with many pivoters on the show and a consistent theme is that uncertainty or trepidation when making such a big jump and career change just as you did. Was there like one specific thing or action that pushed you to make that move?

Martin Pazzani:

These are complicated decisions that kind of add up. I was probably resisting it for a long time because I really did kind of like corporate world. Expense accounts, big brands, when you’re on Madison Avenue, you work with a lot of big global companies. I worked with American Express, Kraft, SC Johnson, the US Postal Service. And we’re talking about my mega companies with mega budgets. And it’s a lot of prestige and excitement that comes with that. On the other hand, it’s you can’t be independent, it’s hard to be innovative in big corporate world. And you also want to feel like you’re doing something for yourself. It’s an interesting thing. And this is where the parallel to a hiking and climbing comes in. I gravitate mostly to solo climbing and hiking. And the beauty of that for me is you’re 100% responsible for the outcome.

Martin Pazzani:

One foot in front of the other, if you succeed or fail, it’s entirely on you. That really doesn’t exist in corporate world. There are complex situations. Sometimes things are beyond your control. You have a complex team dynamics and every now and then you get to say, “I did this.” But the purity of not only entrepreneurship, but getting out there in the hills, hiking and climbing is that it’s entirely on you and your willpower and your persistence, your skill, and you get results based on exactly what you put in. And that feels much more pure to me. And again, it’s kind of funny, because in a way, the duality of it, I still have an affinity for corporate life. But I also really like entrepreneurship. So for me, it wasn’t a, “I have to get out.” It’s a, “I have to learn more about myself and I have to do things a little bit differently and I want to be more in control of the outcome.”

Stan Hall:

You talk so endearingly towards a mountaineering. It’s apparent that you can find a lot of joy and meaning from the activity. But for people who either don’t enjoy mountain climbing or perhaps live in flatter landscapes, are there ways they can achieve some of those same benefits?

Martin Pazzani:

Yeah. You don’t have to get the benefits through mountaineering. Some people will just find that to be a way too risky and they’re not interested. But there are a couple of lessons I’ve learned that are critical, and again, this is one of the foundations of the book. And one of the major lessons I’ve learned and it’s especially true right now is the importance of unplugging. Right now, even before the COVID crisis, we’re all looking at screens. Not only our cell phone, but the television and our computer screens. During the COVID crisis, we’re spending an amazing amount of time staring at screens. We’re plugged in all the time. Everything happens over through a screen. And that sort of changes your perspective on things. And I think it’s really critical, one of the things I advise everybody on the webinar is you need to unplug and get outside and exercise not only your body and your brain, but your eyes. Strangely enough, screens are a two dimensional world and your eyes are a complex organ that has controlled by many muscles.

Martin Pazzani:

And those muscles need to be organized and exercised and stretched. And you don’t get that when you’re staring at a flat two dimensional screen indoors. You got to get outside and move and stimulate your eye muscles and the input into your brain, through your eyes, by moving and looking at things far and close. And if you do that, I believe your creativity goes up. It actually, strangely enough improves your eyesight, because your eye muscles can get so cramped up it actually affects your eyesight. So we need to unplug more and we need to distress as a result of that. And it’s becoming more and more of a problem. Over the last three months, I’ve sensed a real intensifying of stress level and tension. And one of the things I would advise everybody to do right now, is to consciously unplug and get outside and move around.

Martin Pazzani:

And then part B of that is the exercise piece. It doesn’t have to be mountaineering. As humans, pretty much our bodies that are designed for walking, for moving. And what that does is not only change your perspective on things, but it gets your heart rate up. If you’re not out there moving around, you get into a grind where your heart rate isn’t elevated. And strangely enough, modern science has taught us that when your heart rate is boosted through either walking or jogging or running or hiking or climbing, you improve the health of your brain.

Martin Pazzani:

Since the brain is the driver of everything, excellent brain health is critical to an excellent existence on this planet. And you get excellent brain health through raising your heart rate, and your raise your heart rate through exercise. And the best way to do that is walking. The more intense you can get that walking, hiking, running, jogging, walking uphill, the better you will be, not only physically, but cognitively. Your brain starts working better. It’s it fills your thoughts with positive, optimistic thoughts, instead of when you’re not moving around, you tend to ruminate. You tend to focus on negative thoughts and it puts you in a downward spiral. So my advice always is unplug and get more exercise. And I think that’s so basic. But so many people right now are not doing it.

Stan Hall:

Get more exercise. It’s a phrase we hear often. And if anything, the COVID quarantine has amplified these words. Either it’s prescribed to us by a loved one or doctors, or sometimes even muttered to ourselves, almost as a platitude. Often we make the grandiose declarations after an overly indulgent holiday meal that after this bite, we’re going to go get in shape. But becoming physically active can be a daunting task. And with any daunting task, discouragement lies waiting in the wings.

Martin Pazzani:

I have a background in the fitness business. I know it well, and I’ve done an incredible amount of research. And one of the things we learned through that research also through my experiences, when you’re starting a program like that, you have to start small. It’s baby steps. You can’t set goals that are so high, that you’re either not going to be able to achieve them, or you’re going to injure yourself. And the good news about starting a fitness program is the foundational exercise always is walking.

Martin Pazzani:

And walking 20 minutes or so a day is a really good place to start and practically, everybody can do that. So if you start walking like that, gradually that won’t be enough. You’ll walk farther, you’ll walk faster. You may start walking. It’s every activity, every human endeavor, you start as a novice and you start small. There’s no reason why hiking and walking, mountaineering has to be your goal. It starts with a single step, it’s very simple to do. And once you get your legs in a groove for walking and your heart pumping, your brain wants more and you can advance. So there’s no barrier to walking. There’s no barriers that prevent you from starting really small. And you’d be amazed where that can take you.

Stan Hall:

A quick aside on walking. Scientific and physiological benefits aside, one does not need to look far to see a correlation between some of humanity’s greatest thinkers and walking. Aristotle’s school was called the peripatetic school, which would literally translate to walking class. It referenced the way he would conduct his lectures. German thinker, Emmanuel Kant was ridiculed by his fellow citizens for walking the same route every day of his life. In Russia, Leo Tolstoy religiously walked as a hobby, even in the dead of winter while Tchaikovsky used his walks to compose. Some of his greatest works. And it’s not unique to Western thought either.

Stan Hall:

The great Islamic philosopher and physician Avicenna, prescribed walking as part of his treatment regimen, noting its benefits across the board to his patients. And in Kyoto, there was a park that follows a canal named the philosopher’s walk after esteemed Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro and his daily walking path. This is not to say walking is only for the philosophers and artists among us, but rather illuminates that even those history remembers solely his thinkers, as opposed to athletes still benefited and were influenced by their physical wellness.

Martin Pazzani:

I truthfully don’t find enough people turning to exercise right now. One of the problems we have as a culture, not only here in the States, but I think internationally is we have a crisis of inactivity. Too many people are glued to their screens and not moving enough. So the way you get them moving is get them to understand that starting small can lead to very big things.

Martin Pazzani:

And other strategies for getting people started is to help them, to coach them. One of the startups I’m involved with is a fitness coaching startup. And like any endeavor, let’s say playing the piano, learning how to drive, you need a coach. Playing sports, you need a coach. Coaches can not only supply the expertise, but the motivation to get you started. So interesting things are happening in fitness world right now. There’s a higher demand for very trained coaches who understand the motivation aspect of it, not just the technical aspect of how to work out, but the motivational aspect. And I’m pretty excited how that bodes for the future of fitness, because a great coach can inspire you and keep you motivated and diagnose and assess your issues and recommend good next steps.

Stan Hall:

When is the time that one needs to really start considering their relationship with aging and fitness?

Martin Pazzani:

Yeah, it varies per person. But the general research we’ve done shows that about 45 years old, your mindset starts to change and the motivation for being fit, you start to look towards what’s the end going to be? Another trigger for that is what happens with your parents, how your parents age and how your parents pass on influences you greatly. My parents passed way too young. They retired young and they went on a downhill slide. And my plan is not to retire, to work right up until I drop. I hope I drop at my desk or on a mountain somewhere, but I certainly don’t want to go on that downward slide that just … not only does it consume financial resources, but it affects your family. Everybody who around you is affected by your maladies and your inability to take care of yourself.

Martin Pazzani:

And the one that scares me the most. And I think it’s also scaring the population the most is cognitive decline that leads to dementia or Alzheimer’s. What a terrible way to go because you need incredible amounts of care. And science is starting to show that through fitness, you can offset the cognitive decline that many people go into. The fitter you are, the greater likelihood you will not slide into cognitive decline. So by the time you reached your mid-fifties to your early sixties, you’re hyper concerned with how you’re going to live the rest of your life. And longevity becomes an issue. You can’t avoid it. You can ignore it, I guess, but it behooves you to really start thinking about how you’re going to live the rest of your life. And if you eat better and you start to take care of itself from a fitness perspective, chances are, it drastically improves the probability that you’re going to live a longer, happier, healthier life.

Martin Pazzani:

And that’s where the term changing the trajectory of your aging goes. Aging is a curve and you start to decline in your weight, there is your physical prowess, and your cognitive prowess start to decline, but through fitness and activity and staying cognitively engaged, you can raise that curve. And there’s now an interesting concept of compressed morbidity, which sounds kind of morbid or compressed morbidity is, is the kind of life you want to live is active and stimulated and challenged until you’re in your late nineties.

Martin Pazzani:

And then you die fast. It’s called live long die fast, really. Compressed morbidity means active right up until whatever’s going to kill you kills you. And you may get pneumonia or whatever, but you just pass fast. It’s a really interesting goal is to create a situation where your life ends with compressed morbidity. The worst case scenario for me is getting sick in your early sixties and then going on medications and slowing down and pharmaceuticals and the medical community can keep a very, very unhealthy person alive for 20 more years. But it’s expensive and it’s terrible quality of life. And why do that when you can take charge of it and live a much more engaging, active life right up until you pass?

Stan Hall:

Before we go, I would love to know what is on your horizon for the future and how you’re viewing your own aging?

Martin Pazzani:

My mission really is to help as many people as possible change the trajectory of the way they age and I’m applying that myself. So in the mountain, where I’m constantly, I have a 10 point list of hikes and climbs that I’d like to do. It’s constantly changing, but I think the important thing is not what’s on the list, but to always have a list. To always have that list of things you’d like to accomplish in the future.

Martin Pazzani:

I think when you run out of goals and objectives, you are very susceptible to going on that downward slide. So not only do I not intend to retire from business, I don’t intend to retire from hiking and climbing. I want to always be pushing myself towards some new adventures and new challenges. And having that list and constantly revising that list keeps you looking forward. I think that’s critical to a longer life. I think if you run out of things to do, if you cross everything off your bucket list and you settle into, “I’ve done everything I can possibly do with my career.” I think you’re very susceptible to going into decline. And I’m going to hold off on that as long as I possibly can.

Stan Hall:

My takeaways for this episode are one, it’s never too late or too early to start thinking about your physical wellness. The modern office lifestyle isn’t necessarily conducive to making us stay in peak physical shape. We should be proactive about what a good physical life is just as you would save in your 401(k), you should also consider your physical investments that will help you later on in life. And to gain the benefits of physical wellbeing, you don’t have to be a triathlete or a mountaineer. Just walking 20 minutes a day and elevating your heart rate can do wonders. Discouragement around physical fitness thrives when expectations or goals are set too high or too fast. Two, though macabre, the concept of compressed morbidity really stuck out to me. No one wants to suffer for any period of time. And with that concept in mind, it can be easier to ensure you’re taking care of your body now. Simple things like eating right and exercising can influence that universal goal of live long and die fast.

Stan Hall:

Three, always plan your next summit. It is so important to have goals on your list. You are working towards. Maybe it’s taking up a hobby, running a marathon or learning a language. Goals and the pursuit of them are great ways to ensure you never stop growing and learning.

Stan Hall:

To learn more about Martin you can visit our show notes page at truewellthpodcast.com. Martin’s book, and his website will be posted there, so you can pick up a copy of Secrets of Aging Well: Get Outside. If you like today’s show our team would be much obliged. If you left us a review on iTunes, or just told your friends about us. If you have questions for the team, you can reach us at truewellthpodcast.com and that’s W-E-L-L-T-H.com. Until next time.

Stan Hall:

The true WELLth Podcast, made possible by Brighton Jones. Whether you want to save for the future or celebrate today, give back to the community or explore the globe, Brighton Jones believes your values are every bit as unique as your fingerprints. Brighton Jones aligns your time and resources to those values so you can go after the things that you truly care about. Explore your richer life at brightonjones.com today’s episode was edited and produced by Stan hall alongside the rest of our true WELLth team. Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus, Lindsey Hurt, Tara McElroy, and John Dougherty. To get in touch with the team, visit truewellthpodcast.com.