Hey, you know what we haven’t talked about in a while? Staying healthy and in shape, whatever that looks like (what does it look like?). With the spring-like weather that’s in the air in much of the country, I know I can’t be the only one who’s been thinking about putting on some cute summer outfits and getting outside more. Even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as “outdoor people” are probably feeling cooped up enough to think about venturing into gasp nature. There’s one minor wrinkle with impending swimsuit weather, though, and that’s the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to hide the shapes of our bodies in skintight spandex. The alternative of never getting in the pool or out to the beach might not be so attractive after long months stuck inside with winter. And so we start thinking about diets and working out.
Being concerned about how you look is certainly one reason to limit your junk food and get some exercise, but I think there are better reasons to do that work.
Before we dive in, though, let’s talk about what fitness really is. I’m not necessarily talking about a perfect BMI weight or body fat percentage, or being able to pass various tests of your athletic ability. Those can be excellent goals but they don’t always tell the story of how well your body is functioning. For my purposes, I like to think about whether I can do the physical things I want to do. I have some numbers in my head for the weight of my body, but also the weight that I can lift. Every person is going to be a little bit different, and it’s going to require you to do some honest thinking about what is reasonable and what is achievable, and what is an artificial limitation or expectation you or someone else has placed on you. I suggest that you think of fitness as this: being able to participate in your life, and being able to put regular effort towards participating in your life more fully.
The work that you put into becoming fit is good not just for your body, but also your brain and your emotions. Your memory will improve, as will your ability to learn new things. As or more importantly, exercise has positive effects on depression, anxiety, lack of focus, and a host of other mental challenges. You might not feel it immediately, and you might need other assistance to get your head in order, but biochemically, it will make a difference whether you want it to or not, whether you believe in it or not.
If nothing else, there is an accomplishment in setting, working towards, and accomplishing goals in one of these few areas of life that are under our control. While you might participate in a competitive or team sport to get your workout in, training towards performing well in those contests is still your domain. It’s still up to you to eat well, to show up at practice, to learn the skills that you need, to become stronger, more powerful, more agile, more flexible, more of whatever it is that you need to excel. Whether you do so in leaps and bounds, or one turtle step at a time, nobody can take those small and large wins away from you. And each one of those wins? It’s another brick in the wall of your will to to battle against the ultimate specter of death.
Fitness is an enormous factor in determining who lives and who dies, whether from disease or by another’s hand. Being in good physical condition simply make you harder to kill. Even without training, you will be more able to fight more effectively. Your body will be able to take more damage, and heal it faster and more completely. As well, the kinds of workouts that you have to struggle and press on to triumph and finish build the kind of mental resiliency and fitness that make you more stubborn in fighting for your life when it is threatened.
Being fit will also help stave off all of the ways your body will try to hurt itself. Our muscles and bones degenerate over time, especially if we’ve collected the kind of injuries so many of us have, and we become ever more likely to face the diseases that often accompany middle and old age. Being in pain and immobile, and taking handfuls of medication to control illnesses are not inevitable, though. The healthier you can make your body today, the less you will suffer as you get older. It’s like starting a road trip with a full tank of gas instead of a half-empty one, so that you don’t have to wonder if you’ll make it to your destination.
And here’s the thing, you can get all of this without huge investments of time or money. Diet and exercise apps can be found for free or cheap, not to mention all of the videos and information that are out there on the Internet – some of which are even reliable! There are a lot of right ways to get more physically healthy, and few wrong ways as long as you are careful to avoid extraordinarily restrictive diets and extreme forms of working out. As long as you are making progress towards becoming ever fitter, you’re on the journey to all of these good things and looking great in summer clothes? That becomes the bonus.