“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”
(John F. Kennedy)
Extreme Fitness Is Not Sustainable
Physical fitness is vital to good health, but there are major flaws in how most people define fitness and how to get there.
High intensity exercise, heavy weights, marathon distances, and extreme activities have their place in the spectrum of fitness, but they are more likely to be appropriate for Olympic-level athletes rather than your neighbor down the street.
This focus on the extreme is unavoidable in our culture. From sports drink and deodorant commercials, to the rise of intense fitness programs like CrossFit and TV shows like The Biggest Loser, we are told that “going to the max” is the only way to pursue health. However, this approach is not accessible or sustainable for most people.
When Matt and I attended the Paleo f(x) Conference, we went to a session led by James FitzGerald. If you read our interview with James, you might recall that he knows a thing or two about extreme fitness. He’s the 2007 CrossFit Games champion and founder of OPEX Fitness, a company that offers individualized training and coaching education to members worldwide.
His talk was about aligning fitness practices with lifestyle goals and why it’s important to start reframing fitness for longevity. James has dedicated his life to refining energy system work, teaching nutritional and lifestyle balancing techniques, and advocating best practices for training other coaches. I had the chance to speak with him last week about this topic and crafted this post based on our conversation.
Reframing Fitness for Longevity
Most people are not competitive athletes, striving for optimal performance. Even pros eventually retire, get “regular” jobs, and redefine their fitness routines. The human body is strong and capable of amazing things, but certain exercises do more harm than good. Crossing that threshold with injury or burnout can be avoided, first by personally defining fitness, and then aligning fitness goals with life goals.
To create your own definition for fitness, examine what you are currently doing for exercise and question why you are doing those activities. Ask yourself, “Is this effective in making me feel better?” Think about what being fit means to you. How might that change over your lifetime?
Here’s a hint: your personal definition for fitness might not be what you see in movies and magazine ads. We use the four fitnesses – physical fitness, mental fitness, spiritual fitness, and financial fitness – as our guide. You might come up with something similar or very different!
Are Your Fitness Goals Aligned with Your Life Goals?
As James said in his Paleo f(x) talk, “If you want to hike trails when you are 90 years old, box jumps are probably not the best exercise for you.”
To begin the alignment process, take stock of your goals — not just for today, next week, or in three years. Start by asking:
- What are my lifelong goals?
- What do I want to be doing in 20, 40, and 60 years?
- How can my lifestyle help me achieve my goals?
- How can my personal definition of fitness help me achieve my goals?
Once you have your life goals in mind, you can use the practices of goal setting to solve backwards. For example: if you have a goal set for when you are 80 years old, what can you do at 60, 40, and 20 to support that goal? This is not a perfect science, but there are things we know are true. For example: over a period of time, humans start to age. You might not want to beat yourself up physically today if you want to set yourself up for success at 70.
Practice and Repetition Make Progress
Coaches, like those certified by OPEX, can be a great resource as you progress along this journey. Seek out a trainer or coach to help you implement your personal definition of fitness and align your exercise routine with your life goals.
If you are just starting out on your fitness journey, there are four basic elements to focus on: sleep, hydration, nutrition, and movement. Instead of pursuing an intense exercise routine, go for a walk, bike ride, or leisurely swim… and remember to take your time.
With practice and repetition, alignment will become more automatic. As you continue to develop your personal definition for fitness and long-term goals, you can establish safe and healthy practices for longevity.
As Confucius said, “It doesn’t matter how fast you go, so long as you don’t stop.”
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