Over the past 6 months, I’ve taken it up a notch, from being fit to very fit. I am a lot more active and I feel a tremendous sense of well-being. Sure, I have gaps, for example, less strength and more endurance. There are whole areas of fitness I haven’t touched, such as team play and muscle building. But I feel very robust when it comes to tackling everyday life. I can do things like run up stairs, stand at a concert hall with no seating for 4 hours, sit on the floor and get up again with no supports, lop unruly branches off trees, haul bags of soil and gravel for the garden, and shovel the car out from a winter blizzard. In the absence of any real-life activities, I stay in shape by walking, skating, elliptical, mini-trampoline and the occasional exercise DVD.
I’ve written before about whether I am athletic and about my experiences in gym/physical education classes in school. In my school days, all across Canada, students were subjected to annual fitness tests. These consisted of doing push ups, sit ups, sprints, distance runs, relay-type runs and long jumps. Later we were judged by our ability to attempt gymnastics or to learn and play basketball, volleyball or field hockey. To complement this, we learned about nutrition in the Canada Food Guide.
In retrospect, I wonder why we didn’t focus on more practical things like touching our toes or doing squats, which would have actually helped with everyday activities. But even more so, it would have been better to learn about health more holistically. How do I know when worry is appropriate and when it has become debilitating anxiety? How do I know when to call for a medical appointment and when to wait it out? What are the best ways to develop and reinforce good habits? How can I tell if medical information is reliable?
Lately I’ve been thinking about how much a good level of fitness adds to my life, and what a difference it would make to my quality of life if I didn’t have it. First of all, I am able-bodied and have a full range of movement. I don’t have any chronic health conditions, illness or injuries. I have no particular mental health stressors in my life right now. I feel I am able to use good judgment in managing my health. I have a good education, income and social supports. I have the freedom to act in my own best interests. I have access to medical services, mostly free. To me, all of those things are the starting points for health and fitness.
I completed a little analysis of what fitness means to me: to perform self-care, to be able to engage easily in daily tasks, to move without injury or pain, to get through the day without feeling weary, to feel alert and motivated, to feel comfortable in my body, and only when those things are secure: to go harder/stronger/faster!
Here is a list I made up that describes my view of moving toward better health. I could never tick all these boxes, especially not every day, but I am at a healthier, more fit level the majority of the time and I appreciate feeling truly well.
- Be kind to myself
- Get out of bed, shower, prepare food, eat, and go to medical appointments
- Do what I need to do to recover from an illness or injury
- Take steps to prevent injury and pain
- Take steps to avoid the onset of my symptoms (allergies, migraines, etc.)
- Take the medications I am prescribed
- Maintain my mobility
- Get the medical help I need
- See friends and accept their help
- Remain standing for a period of time (waiting for a bus, waiting in line)
- Walk throughout the day (work, shopping, errands)
- Push and pull, turn and reach for things I need
- Experience little to no pain during daily activities (driving, keyboarding)
- Dismiss or deal with intrusive thoughts and worries
- Sleep deeply most nights
- Enjoy the company of my friends, relatives and co-workers
- Stop short of eating until I’m uncomfortably stuffed – most of the time!
- Maintain my weight
- Prepare and eat mostly healthy foods with reasonable portion sizes
- Recognize when stress is building and make a change
- Cope with stressful situations, decisions and people
- Recover from colds and viruses without lingering effects
- Crouch and bend to reach something dropped on the floor, or stored on a bottom shelf
- Function without escalators, elevators and close parking spots (within reason)
- Climb a flight of stairs without stopping or gasping for breath
- Use a step ladder without fear of falling
- Lift and carry medium-weight items like a bag of groceries
- Go for a walk with a friend and carry on a conversation
- Do active things: walk the dog, weed the garden, move a piece of furniture, paint a wall, dance at a wedding
- Meet my nutritional needs with few or no supplements
- Exercise regularly to improve my strength, balance and endurance
- Enjoy hearty walks, tourist treks and long shopping trips
- Climb hills or multiple sets of stairs easily
- Stay balanced on rough ground or ice
- Lift heavy items
- Carry heavy items for a distance
- Solve problems alone or collaboratively with others
- Adapt to major life changes
- Do very active things: go for a swim, shovel snow, help a friend move, give a child a piggyback ride
- Rely on myself to eat all the healthy food I need every day
- Enjoy being physically active every day
- Choose a focus such as core strength or cardio stamina
- Integrate movement into my work day
- Challenge myself by trying new sports and activities
- Compete against my Personal Best records or against others
- Power through evening activities after a busy day
- Feel mentally sharp at meetings
- Play at the playground with kids
- Make time to help others
Are you kind to yourself and your body? What does (or what would) it take for you to feel healthy and/or fit?