For all that I like to say that there are no “just” answers in self-defense, there is one thing you can do that will always put you ahead. And it’s not “situational awareness.”
It’s taking care of your health and fitness.
I’m sorry. It’s something that will require lifelong, constant effort, and you won’t always be able to control the things that set you back. You might have to fight against genetics and injuries, even ones you don’t cause yourself. It’ll probably cost you a fair amount of time, energy, and money. Frankly, sometimes it’s going to suck.
There are, of course, debates over what constitutes a healthy diet and a sufficient amount of effective exercise, what the ideal weight is for one’s height and frame and biological sex, what kinds of movements one should be able to perform on demand, what a fit body looks like. In general, more whole foods with plenty of vegetables, in quantities that allow you to be at a weight and level of fitness that allows you to function in daily life, and more movement than not, seem to be about right. It means having some moderation in how we eat and taking care of injuries and illnesses as much as we can or learning to work around them. The exact diet you choose to follow, and the precise workout regime that you fit into your life aren’t nearly as important as continue to work towards improvement from where you are today.
But even putting aside the fact that you are far more likely to fall victim to an illness that can be prevented or alleviated by proper diet, and exercise, and medical treatment, whatever that looks means, there are immediate benefits to your personal safety that come from being as healthy as you can be.
It starts with looking and moving less like a victim. Much like predatory animals, bad guys often hunt people who have uneven gaits or otherwise look like they’re having trouble walking. After all, their work is easier if you can’t run away or fight them off. Tentative movement patterns also look like they belong to someone who already believes they don’t belong and aren’t safe, and those people are perhaps then easier to intimidate. Exercise is helpful not only to give you the physical ability to move around strong and uninjured, but to teach the movement patterns that make you look like you’re moving comfortably through the world. Even with injuries, you can appear able and confident within your limitations.
If you are attacked, the better your health, the more effective any defensive action you choose to take will be. Fitness means you’ll be faster and more agile if you decide to escape, stronger with more endurance if you decide to wrestle or hit, more coordinated with faster reactions if you decide to use a weapon. After all, saying you’ll run away from the bad guy only works if you can actually, you know, run faster and longer than them. Knowing how to use a gun is one thing, but being able to control the fight if you end up closer than arm’s length, as is common…even if you don’t have hand-to-hand skills, just straight up being in better shape will give you better odds.
The bad guy might hurt you anyway. It happens sometimes, no matter how good our situational awareness is, no matter how good our defensive strategies are. Sometimes, it’s nearly inevitable. Being in good health will, however, literally make you harder to kill. Your body will be able to take more damage before it is completely disabled, it will be easier to treat when the cavalry does ride in and you do get medical care, and it will heal faster and more completely. That’s not to say complete recoveries are ever promised, but you stack the deck in your favor when you start out as close to 100% as you can get.
Believe me, I understand how hard it is. Right now, I’m undergoing an expensive treatment and suffering an associated major diet change for an issue that’s been hitting me on and off for decades. Because I’m in the best shape of my life, it’s been less debilitating than it could be, and removing the source of the pain will probably mean no longer having to pretend I can walk with an even, confident gait and being able to more effectively train in the gym and on the range. It’s not easy, but it’s so, so worth it for the one thing that can make me more likely to avoid or survive a violent encounter.
Now it’s your turn. What are you going to do?