I often hear people say they want to be fit and I often works with clients who say the exact same thing. Being fit means different things to different people so the challenge is to decide what being fit means to you. The American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength & Conditioning Associations, both good organizations which I’m involved with, have their textbook and quantitative definitions of what fitness is. But these don’t work for every situation. To say you want to be fit is a starting point. It means you care enough to have some sort of drive or motivation.
At least if you want to be fit, you want something, you desire something. The way I work and see things, being fit is not the end point and never will be, but as I’ve said before it can be a beginning towards something more meaningful. My question for you is: Fit for what? If you want to be the leader of a school, and teach your teachers and students well, and this is your primary goal, your parameters of fitness will be different from someone who wants to be a good soccer player, or weightlifter, or who wants to be a bikini model.
Maybe, like me, you want to be fit because you want to feel good. This is my primary motivation. I want to feel good, no matter what I’m doing. I might do martial arts, run, give a talk, read a book, write an essay, get up at 5am 5 days straight, do yard work, run a few times, go swimming, and have 50-60 appointments all in a week’s time in addition to social engagements. I want to feel good and have the energy to do this. My main purpose in life is to become who I was created to be, and being fit is part of this, but being fit is not the main purpose of my life. I want to be fit so I can enjoy life and feel good and live out the other, more important main purpose of giving of myself and my talents. I want to be mentally sharp throughout my life so I want to challenge my brain and body to work together to stay fit.
What do you want to be fit for? If you’ve read this far, the desire is there and you want to be fit for some reason. That’s a good things because most people don’t even make it that far. There’s more to life than work, and external goods, so I recommend hobbies, or practices. Maybe you will decide to pick up a practice such as dance, or martial arts, or mountain biking, or swimming. You want to improve at this and get better at it, so this is your motivation. Hobbies are an appropriate way to develop commitment, passion, discipline, patience, and honesty. Hobbies or practices are different from “play” in that they have a goal in mind, and are more than just acquiring a certain skill. Football is a hobby, or practice, while throwing a pass is a skill.
You can participate in hobbies to make your fitness more fun and meaningful. Practicing itself can be an internal good for you along the way, as you’re learning or practicing the hobby to prepare for a competition or demonstration. When you reach a goal within the hobby this can be an internal and external good: you may win a trophy, or a t-shirt, or recognition but you may also win self-respect which only you will ever know or care about.
You’re doing the hobby with a goal in mind like finishing a race or winning a match, but, and this is important, you’re not doing the hobby just for the goal. You’re practicing because you enjoy practice and practice is as good as achieving the end. For example, if you asked me when I was writing a book if I “enjoyed” it, I’d say that I enjoyed it but not like I enjoy a BBQ sandwich or a conversation or a sunset. Engaging in a meaningful practice is a different type of enjoyment, fuller and deeper than fleeting pleasure. It is a “good” in a different way from the way a movie is good, or a piece of pie is good. When you and a friend agree to play chess, you have to stick to the rules. Within the context of the game, or hobby, or practice, you change and become better and you “enjoy” the process of playing, learning, and becoming better.
No one is going to force you to take on a practice of fitness but fitness is a worthy practice in its own right. Fitness is something you will choose to do, or not, like any other hobby. If you work outside all day, or do challenging physical work you may not have the energy to do “fitness” workouts and you might really need to rest at night. Your job, say carpentry, or yoga teacher, may already make you physically fit. You may prefer to learn to play the piano, or read a good book, or to learn to speak Arabic in the evenings. For you, “fit for what?” takes on a different meaning. You need to be fit to earn your income as a carpenter or yoga teacher, so fitness in the traditional sense or the way most people think of it, may not be appropriate for you.
Again, to be fit, means to be “fit” for something and you get to decide what. I have some questions and suggestions for you:
1) What do you want to be fit for?
2) What does it mean to be fit for you?
3) How will you know if you’re becoming “fit” or not?
4) Where and how will you learn to be “fit”? Who or what will teach you?
This requires humility, a rare commodity these days. Remember, being “fit” can mean different things to different people. But you still need to commit to a certain practice of some sort.
Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:
- What do you really want to become in life, inside and out? This will help you decide what to do with your “fitness” routine?
- Being fit could have high practical significance. Here are some examples:
- Being able to walk all day, so you can go sightseeing on a trip.
- Being able to play baseball, basketball, or tennis, with your children.
- Being fit enough to surf or ski on vacation once a year.
- Being able to lead boy scouts on a trip.
- Being fit enough to do random physical activities reasonably well – hiking, canoeing, or fishing.
- Being fit enough to defend yourself.
- Being fit to stay sexually active all of your life.
- Everyone needs at least one practice, or hobby. It doesn’t have to be physically oriented, but if you can combine fitness and a hobby, even better. I would suggest things like dance, martial arts, any type of sport, or biking or running, because they are inexpensive. You could also participate in language acquisition, book clubs, writing, art, or other games- cards or chess.
- Fitness, or PE itself can be a practice. For example, you could try to become fit at competing towards improving certain metrics: the number of push-ups, a timed mile run, sit – ups, or high jump. There are 100s of fitness tests you can do.
- You can compete against yourself in a hobby / practice, or against others, but I recommend both.
- A very baseline idea of physical fitness would be as follows:
- Mobility- Can I move?
- Stability- Can I maintain posture?
- Strength- Can I create force, or resist it?
- Power – Can I apply force quickly?
- Endurance – Can I walk for an hour without stopping to rest? Can I jog 2 miles?
To sum it up, a state of constant work, with no time to be truly “fit” is not a healthy way to live. Everyone needs to take a break from work, from media, and from everything else and engage in a healthy hobby. Everyone should answer the question- Fit for what? Identifying what you want to be fit for, can help you get started towards a committed practice. Don’t let anyone else fool you: You get to decide what being fit is for you and only you ultimately can decide if you’re getting fit or not. But you have to be honest with yourself about how you’re doing on your fitness journey.
I could care less about running a marathon. This is not my type of fitness, but its fine for some people. If you pick a practice, stick with it and don’t change too often. This is the “place” you will learn to be fit, and as a byproduct you’ll become a better person. Focusing on 1 hobby at a time is something I do not do well at, but I’m trying to do better. The problem is that I like to do too many different things! Pick something, stick with it, and always remember what you’re becoming fit for. Like I’ve said before- Fitness is not the point but it’s a starting point. When you do start and you do achieve authentic fitness, you will have achieved fitness on both inside and out.
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