What is fitness? It seems like a simple question, but the answer can be complicated. The dictionary defines fitness “as the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This is a basic definition, but I don’t think it defines fitness. In fact, fitness is different for everyone. There is no one definition.
Part of the goal of my bike tour was to get a better hold of what fitness really is. I had the unique opportunity to talk to people from all walks of life and backgrounds spread across the US. I was particularly interested if geographic location made a difference in one’s definition of fitness.
In the first part of my adventure, I journeyed down the east coast staying with friends and strangers (the strangers soon became friends). I surveyed most of them to get a better idea of what they think of fitness. I’ve inserted some excerpts to help you “find your fitness.” My goal is to show you that good health is not a prescribed path. Like life, good health changes and evolves as you grow. I hope these fitness stories will help you make your own!
The Three Canons of Fitness
I met Eric in a chance encounter while darting back and forth between NJ and PA while riding on the Delaware River. His definition of fitness encompasses three elements that can help you define it for yourself:
I find my personal definition of good health encompasses fitness and wellness of mind, body, and soul.
- Mind fitness and wellness.
- I try to stay as mentally active as possible, not too hard considering I’m a full-time employee of 3 teenage boys living at home. It can be easy to fall into a daily routine that can include copious amounts of stress which I recognize as one of the least healthy influences in life. I try to address the stress and offset it with moments of meditation.
- Body fitness and wellness
- My program kind of falls off during the wet and cold of the winter. That’s when cabin fever sets in sometimes. I tried trail jogging last year and have also moved into the world of gravel bikes to keep the legs spinning, calories burning, and the aerobic in/outs going year-round.
- Soul fitness and wellness
- Kind of the result of combining the first two elements.
Eric – Dingman’s Ferry, PA
Eric’s definition sheds light on where to start with fitness. Good health is not about one thing. It is a combination of different flows of life. You can think about good health as a lake. There are different rivers feeding the lake. When one dries up the other rivers have to work harder to keep the lake filled. This strains our fitness and well-being. Lack of flow from one river can dry out the other rivers as they work too hard to fill up the lake. Good health is about keeping the rivers flowing smoothly so “your lake” remains full. It’s all about balance. Check out my friend and sponsor JB from Colorado on balance:
Keep it Simple
I met Morgan when I stayed over at his house while biking through South Carolina. I enjoyed talking with him and his wife about a lot of topics. We had a lot of similar views on a lot of things, and I love his definition of fitness. He simplified it into terms that make it much easier to understand:
Everywhere you look, you are going to be told how you should exercise, eat, look, and feel. I think this is one of the biggest walls for people, especially starting out with a new lifestyle change. I’ve read and tried tons of diets and workouts, and I’ve boiled down my health and fitness to some simple truths for myself at least.
For diet – eat food that has been minimally processed (if at all!) and follow in a diet regime that makes you feel healthy. Cliché, I know, but this is commonly overlooked in a world where it seems like everyday foods and diets are being flipped flopped from good to bad, and then back to good. Our bodies are resilient mechanisms that typically give us positive and negative feedback!
For exercise – find something active that makes you happy. It won’t be sustainable any other way. I hate running on the road outside, but my wife loves it! I found that my exercise has to have some adrenaline pump to it so I mountain bike and rock climb when I can. If I can’t, it’s easier for me to convince myself to go to the gym, because I want to be good at and enjoy the activities I do like!
For mind – stop looking for others to define your own happiness. It’s something you can produce and watching others “experience” it will not induce it for you. Get enough sleep at night. Build relationships with real people, face to face. Experience new things. Be open to new ideas. Laugh at yourself. And most importantly, love yourself.
These are foundations that I keep in mind for myself because that is what I’ve experimented with and found worked for me! Everyone’s a little different, so see what works for you!
Morgan – Florence, SC
Morgan describes good health in a way anyone can follow. He also lists the same three areas that Eric mentioned. As I’ve prescribed in other posts, diet comes down to eating whole foods. Exercise is about finding something that makes you happy (check out my post on this). His thoughts on the fit mind come down to loving yourself. It’s that simple. By keeping it simple, we can find good health in our way. His last line highlights the next area of fitness: Everyone’s different.
Fitness is What You Make of It
Fitness is not a prescribed routine. As Morgan mentioned there is far too much rhetoric on what “good health should be.” There are too many gurus telling you what to do. In reality, good health is what you make of it. I stayed with my good college friend Nick in Arlington, VA. His definition of health echoes these thoughts:
The short answer is that good health and fitness means being in shape and eating healthy. Everyone is different and being in “good health” and “good fitness” can mean different things. you should be in good enough shape so you can complete your day to day activities or walk up several flights of stairs/sever blocks without being winded.
You should also set personal goals for yourself such as getting to a certain weight or running a set distance in under a certain amount of time. as long as you are eating healthy and making legitimate strides to bettering yourself I think you can have good health and fitness
Nick, Arlington, VA
Nick makes the keen observation that good health is different for everyone. You have a different definition of vigor than me, your Dad, or your friend. Fitness is not about following what other’s do. As Nick puts it, it’s about doing things to better yourself. You are striving to do what makes you feel good. This will not be what the fitness guru is doing on TV. It’s important to remember that good health is what you make of it.
During my travels, I talked to so many people that exercised in different ways. Exercise for one person may be a yoga class a few times a week. Another person it might be an Ironman Triathlon. Neither person is wrong; they have adapted fitness to match what they love. Do what you love and good health will follow.
How do You Define What Fitness Means to You?
We’ve established that good health is different for everyone, but there should be something to strive for. What does it really mean to be healthy? Nick hinted at it when he said it’s about being able to live your life, but another friend describes it even better. I met Orrie when he took me into his home-based off a FB post he had responded to. He didn’t know me at all but was more than willing to share his home, food, and great conversation. His definition of fitness gets at what true health really is:
My definition of good health and fitness is being able to run after my 4 grandkids, run with my grown kids and compete in events with my wife. I’m 55 now, and it’s an age where you start to see an increase in sickness and death in friends and family. Years of unhealthy living start to pay off at my age in the worst kind of payback. I want to enjoy mobility, energy and being sick free as long as I can. For motivation and goals, I enter as many events as I can afford and fit in. Six triathlons, a 100-mile bike ride, a marathon, 2 half marathons, and countless 5ks this year alone. Being competitive has taught me how to persevere when things go awry, taught me how to eat better and improved my social life with interesting characters in this community of fitness friends.
Orrie – Waycross, GA
The first thing Orrie talks about is keeping up with his grandkids. Orrie has found his passion in long-distance endurance events, but his first words are about keeping up with his kids. Good health is not about completing Ironmans. It’s about being able to live happily and healthily. The healthiest people in the world do not “exercise LINK.” Exercise is integrated into their daily lives with walks to the store or gardening. These people do not need to define good health because it’s part of them.
Fitness is about feeling healthy and happy so that you can live for your family. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be the ability to walk a few miles a day or run after a kid. Good health and vigor come back to a healthy mind, body, and soul.
Fitness is a Journey
I hope you can see that fitness is a personal definition you form for yourself. Health is part of our life journey and it can take many twists and turns. You define good health as you define yourself. Good health is all about balancing mind, body, and soul. Treating one poorly can ruin your health.
Fitness is about keeping things simple. Eat whole foods, do what makes you happy, and love yourself. Following these simple prescriptions creates fitness. What you do may be different than the next person. Remember that fitness is not something set in stone. Most importantly, fitness is what allows you to stick around for your family. It’s the little things that let you keep up with your kids while enjoying life.
I found that in my journey down the east coast that the definition of good health had some key takeaways. Yet, the biggest thing I learned is that fitness is personal. Good health and vigor is a personal journey where you find what makes you healthy. Location, sex, religion, beliefs, or upbringing do not define good health in itself. There were no trends in certain locations down the east coast since everyone’s journey was different. I want to inspire you to follow your personal journey. Follow these canons, but mold your own journey. The more we believe this, the longer we prosper.
How do you define fitness? Do you have any strong beliefs about fitness and wellness? What’s your fitness story? Let me know in the comments!
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