Scientists and fitness fanatics alike have long struggled to define “fitness”. At first it was a purely physical thing. You strap something around your chest, jump and down or go for a run and the “device” will tell us whether you’re fit or not. This conclusion would be reached with reference to things such as VO2 Max, resting heart-rate and how wide your nostrils open when chased by a polar bear. All purely physical parameters.
Nowadays lines between fitness and health have become blurry. And thank goodness for that. You can’t really have the one without the other. If you’re physically fit chances are you’re healthy as well. And if you’re doc is satisfied that you’re healthy you’d at least be able to take the dog for a walk which bestows upon you some sort of fitness.
Physical fitness on the other hand, warrants a discussion on its own. Who’s fitter? The Kenyan that can run until the sun comes up or the body-builder that can bench-press a house? Greg Glassman would argue that neither one is fit. The one has loads of endurance and stamina and the other lots of power. The Kenyan can’t pick up a bag of dog food, having sacrificed power and strength for stamina and endurance while the body-builder can’t run around a track without life-support.
Glassman argues that there are ten physical ‘skills’ and that you’re only as fit as you’re competent in each of the ten skills (stamina, endurance, power, speed, strength, balance, agility, flexibility, coordination and accuracy). According to this the heptathlete would be fitter than Usain Bolt or Tom Walsh. I tend to agree.
What then would it mean to be LifeFit? Or fit for life? If fitness means to have some form of competence in each of the ten physical skills, LifeFit would mean to be that plus having some competency in the ‘other’ skills required to navigate life’s choppy waters. Putting up with your mother-in-law for a month requires endurance, even flexibility, just not the physical type. Mental endurance and flexibility are required. Helping an elderly lady carry her groceries across the street takes some form of physical strength but also a certain resolve or attitude. Same with pulling out a chair or opening a door for your wife. Without the necessary coordination (physical attribute), your plan to build ‘credits’ can have the opposite effect. It requires an awareness.
Glassman’s list of physical skills is exhaustive. I can’t think of any other physical skills I’d like to add to determine or define physical fitness. The list of the ‘life-skills’ are not so clear-cut but here’s mine:
- love (I know, sounds corny but love always wins – just ask Morrie);
- self control
Like Glassman, I’d argue that your happiness will only be determined with reference to your competency in each of the above ‘life-skills’. Improvements in coordination, agility, balance and accuracy comes about through practice. Whereas improvements in endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility comes about through training. Power and speed are adaptations of both practice and training.
Likewise, improvements in patience, friendliness, kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control comes about through practice (and a bit of training) while love, joy and peace are the result of ‘adaptations’ of such practice and training. Go out in traffic and practice not to boil over when a taxi changes lanes without warning. Go stand in a queue in the bank and offer your place up for an elderly. Buy a cup of coffee for the person standing behind you in the queue. So many everyday situations can become your training ground. And training those skills will improve them.
Here’s an example. Next time your mother-in-law shows up uninvited, take a deep breath (patience), count to ten (more patience), smile (friendliness), give her a hug (kindness), tell her she looks wonderful (more kindness, friendliness, even humility), invite her in, offer her a cup of tea, listen to her stories. Easy, all of the above ticked. Love, joy and peace may not manifest immediately after she finished her cup of tea but your credit-rating will sky-rocket filling you with a sense of peace and even joy! And your wife will love you for it.
Improve your ten physical skills, improve your fitness. Improve your fitness, improve your health. Improvement in health will necessarily improve your life-skills. You’ll have more energy to engage in the activities that really matters. You’ll be able to mentally endure situations that would otherwise have caused you to have a minor seizure. You’ll have the discipline to go out and practice patience, friendliness etc. All because you feel good about yourself. If you feel good about yourself, you’ll be able to give more of yourself (which is nothing else than honing your ‘life-skills’).
The idea is to be fit for whatever life throws at us and the easiest first step towards achieving it is by getting off the couch and to start moving.