Are You Fit to Live?
Take steps to survive, thrive and realize your best life possible.
Ask yourself this question, “Am I fit enough to survive the challenges of living in the 21st century?” Could you:
- Get up with no assistance after falling?
- Dash after a child who was running toward a busy intersection?
- Hoist your luggage into the overhead compartment?
- Race up four flights of stairs?
- Run for your life in the face of impending danger?
- Mentally regroup after experiencing significant stress?
Contemplating these scenarios redefines fitness and elevates it to a whole new and uniquely functional level. Suddenly, possessing aerobic endurance and physical strengthisn’t just about looking hot in a pair of jeans or winning a 5K. It’s about surviving the gamut of life’s mental and physical challenges, from the mundane to the death-defying.
It’s fitness with a survival twist.
As a physician, my guiding mission is to help people save their own lives. My goal is for each person to be fit enough to survive, live their dreams and continue to grow and challenge themselves mentally and physically. Reframing the focus this way provides much more meaningful motivation to make the time and do the work to achieve and sustain overall fitness.
I felt so strongly about this that I penned the book “Fit to Live,” which subsequently became the award-winning Discovery Health TV series, “Could You Survive?” that I co-directed and hosted. In each show, a small group of average people confronted a survival scenario they had to navigate. We started with a burning building segment in which participants had to quickly run up and down many flights of stairs, crawl under collapsing walls, drag an injured person to safety, climb over mountains of debris, and finally make it to safety. Their first attempt was always fraught with drama, trauma and tears, as no one survived due to their lack of overall mental and physical fitness. After participating in six weeks of individualized mind and body training, each person was finally able to repeat the same challenge successfully. One eye-opener was that looks can indeed be deceiving. Men and women, who were slender or appeared to be of average weight, were often in no better shape than their heavier counterparts.
How can you become fit to live? Consider these five factors:
1. Mental: It’s not the strongest or smartest who survive, it’s those people who can adapt and adjust to life’s constant stresses. To be mentally fit to live, you need to be able to regroup as quickly as possible after you get off track. Observe yourself under stress and find ways to practice resilience. Make it a daily practice to hone your coping skills. Think of yourself as a strategically fearless warrior. You’re fighting to save your life in every way. Add a spiritual dimension to help support your mental fitness. Reframe traumas, redefine normal when change occurs, and make time to rejuvenate through meditation and sleep. Incorporate joy through loving relationships and passionate pursuits.
2. Nutritional: Natural, nutritious and delicious whole foods are your ticket to fueling optimal mental and physical performance. Your very survival depends upon making the time to grow (if possible), prepare, cook and enjoy your meals.
3. Physical: Keep reminding yourself as you sweat through another brisk walk or workout that you’re doing this to maintain your independence as you age, and strengthen your ability to fend for yourself in any kind of challenge. This is about succeeding at daily survival on a primal basis. Don’t limit yourself to being indoors in gyms, either. Recently, I visited WellFit Malibu in California, a renowned healthy lifestyle retreat, and as I hiked through the hilly property, I was reminded of one “Could You Survive?” episode, where the participants had to run from an imaginary raging wildfire. Envisioning fireballs behind me, I picked up my pace and was gratified to realize I could indeed run for my life if I had to.
4. Financial: You may wonder why I bring up money when talking about survival fitness. Well, if you haven’t enough to buy sneakers, then you’re not taking a walk. There is a strong connection between wealth (defined as your available financial resources) and health. If you’ve planned well and have saved money effectively, then you can afford basic workout gear, equipment or a gym membership to improve your overall health and fitness. Financial fitness applies to people of every income bracket. Many communities provide options for children and adults to participate in group exercise programs at little or no cost.
5. Environmental: People are often oblivious to how stressful it is to live in a disorganized mess. Therefore, it’s imperative to declutter to de-stress. You don’t have to become a stringent Marie Kondo tidiness disciple. Just ensure that you have clean and open surfaces and living spaces. Environmental fitness also means taking full advantage of the outdoors as well. How about that walk in your local park? Why not start an organic vegetable garden? Bicycling down country roads on a summer morning is a priceless experience. Finally, carefully examine how supportive the persons, places and things in your life are to the achievement of your fit to live goal, and assess if it’s time for a sorely needed overhaul.