The studies are piling up so high, I can't lift their weight in paper anymore. Being active improves brain function, staves off aging and extends our quality lives. Exercise can help us overcome depression and anxiety, help with weight loss, increase mobility, agility and flexibility. Sometimes I wonder—what doesn't an active lifestyle help with?
All to say, getting vigorous is good for us. But is it an end in itself? Of course, we want to live longer and better. But why?
So we can do more with our time in this world.
Our robust health is here to serve us, not the other way around. Most of us are not on this earth for the purpose of being healthy and fit (professional athletes excepted). Fulfilling our purpose, finding and acting on the meaning that is our compass and fills everything we do with intent, is the goal. Our health is one of the key resources that helps us achieve that goal.
“Health is not a destination. You don't suddenly "arrive". Health is a resource that you nurture by striving to make more healthy than unhealthy choices. You can start anytime. It's never too late."
Tieraona Low Dog (internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women's health)
When we treat our health as the end objective, we can generate a negative stress in the very act of working out. If we workout just to get thinner, we will beat ourselves up that we're not thin enough (never mind by what flawed standard we are judging the result). Or we may workout to get stronger or faster, but in the process actually wear ourselves down, getting weaker and slower (thus cranky, too).
Pilar Gerasimo, a journalist and social explorer, takes this idea of health as a resource further still. In her Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, she says being healthy is a revolutionary act by which we reclaim our vitality that is both our individual right and our collective responsibility.
Right and responsibility are big words, but that doesn't mean they require big action. Our first responsibility is to the small, everyday things. Most action we take has the power to make the world a better or worse place, including how we treat the people around us. Did you smile at the barista when you got your morning coffee? Or were you scowling for your caffeine, your mind already hours ahead into your day?
Bring the energy to your life that you hope for from others. How we are in the world matters. How we approach our workouts is just one aspect. You know people who make you feel good, just by being around them. That's who we want to be. That's what our vitality is for. That's why we workout. This responsible-vitality business could be a heavy burden. It's not. Adopting this perspective of resource-not-goal adds lightness to our workouts. Instead of feeling the pressure of self-imposed finish lines (that you may be fixating on, or beating yourself up about), you are lifted in the updraft of energy that purpose creates.
A friend who is an acupuncturist and single mother raising a young daughter, recently said, “I'm too busy and so tired a lot of the time, I can't keep up with the bad news. I've decided that my way of serving in the world right now is not to talk about politics and get caught up in all the negative emotion, but to share my positive energy and help others get theirs flowing." She is indeed a buoyant soul who always lifts my day. How revitalizing. There's that word vitality again, nestled inside another word. Every individual action counts. Small actions add up.
Of course, if you can offer your energy on a larger stage (not better, just bigger), Megan Rapinoe is an excellent activist-athlete example. As she says, “In this incredible moment that I have, I would like to use this platform to unify people." Please do. As a professional soccer player, Rapinoe's health and strength are her current work in the world, but she's determined to use her resources for broader purposes, including equal pay for women athletes. That's revolutionary.
Let's all be revolutionaries and nurture that most vital resource—our health.
MINA SAMUELS is a writer, playwright and performer, and in a previous incarnation, a litigation lawyer and human rights advocate. Her books include, "Run Like A Girl 365 Days: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes" (Skyhorse Press; June 2019), "Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives" (for which she appeared on The Today Show); a novel, The Queen of Cups; and The Think Big Manifesto, co-authored with Michael Port.