Most people want to be fit. We all aspire to be fit enough to say ‘yes’ more often to participating in those things that can add quality to our lives. But being fit is more than physical fitness. Emotional fitness, spiritual fitness, and mental fitness can’t be ignored.
No one denies the importance of physical fitness. And you’re never too old to exercise. It’s more than 2,000 years since Cicero (106-43 BCE) advocated that we ‘take moderate exercise’, and since then we’ve gymd, jogged, walked, dieted, worshipped at the shrine of physical beauty, and jumped on the latest fitness bandwagon. And in later life, we’ve heeded Ben Franklin’s advice about early to bed and early to rise.
Just as ancient Greek society valued physical perfection, we have come to appreciate the multiple benefits of physical fitness.
As people search for ways to improve the quality of their lives, the importance of emotional fitness has become increasingly clear.
Abraham Lincoln made the observation: ‘The face you have at age thirty-five is the one you are born with; after thirty-five, it’s the face you have made’. Since then, there has been increased awareness of retaining emotional energy by keeping your cool. Research tells us that emotional stress accelerates aging and that we should avoid at all cost being involved in toxic relationships. We need to make sure that the energy we provide or contribute to a relationship is positive.
Taking time to connect to one’s deepest values can be rewarding also. And there’s a smorgasbord of techniques to help-prayer, meditation, journal writing, service to others, walking in the mountains, watching a sunset. The best pathway is likely to be the one that helps a person to locate and understand his or her energy source.
In 1980, Harvard psychologist Charles Alexander taught mind-body techniques to eighty-year-old residents of three age-care homes in Boston. Residents chose either a relaxation technique, or meditation, or a set of word games designed to sharpen mental skills. Follow-up tests showed that mediators demonstrated improved learning ability, reduced blood pressure, and improved their mental health. When he returned to the age-care homes three years later, Alexander found to his surprise that, although one-third of the residents had died, among the mediators the death rate was zero.
Mental fitness helps ward-off some of the negative effects associated with aging. But preserving mental fitness is an essential feature of a high-quality lifestyle for all ages.
One of the fascinating features of mental acuity is that there isn’t a time when our brain is not working for us. Even when we’re engaged in a seemingly mindless activity such as jogging, singing in the shower, or weeding the garden, the solution to a vexing problem can present itself. Even the problem-solving advice to ‘sleep on it’ can prove helpful; the subconscious often finds a solution.
It is important for us to realize that sustained mental fitness requires rejuvenation. And this usually occurs during periods of free time or time out. And research is showing that through contemplative practices (like meditation, for example), the brain cells are rejuvenated.
So, when someone enquires about your fitness, you’ll need to consider emotional, spiritual, and mental-as well as physical fitness.