“For 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. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies”.
John F Kennedy – The Soft American. Dec 1960
Perhaps no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Greece. The idealism of physical perfection was one that embodied ancient Greek civilization. The appreciation for beauty of the body and importance of health and fitness throughout society is one that is unparalleled in history. The Greeks believed development of the body was as important as development of the mind. Physical well-being was necessary for mental well-being, with the need for a strong, healthy body to harbor a sound mind. Many founding medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Greece, including Herodicus, Hippocrates, and Galen.
Historically the human race has always admired physical beauty. We have tried to achieve it in many ways. Besides improving ones physique, beauty treatments, implants, cosmetic surgery, make up….. You name it and we are always coming up with newer ways to “look” better.
It is quite natural therefore to want to improve ones appearance, or at least, make the best of ones appearance. Look better, take better care of ones skin, hair and body. However, I am not sure focusing on physical beauty alone will take one very far in any aspect of life including the happiness quotient. It fact it can be quite stressful to be a prisoner to ones looks, whether it is trying to build your body in a gym or doing makeovers in a parlor.
The question is, ARE WE REALLY BETTER? Does improving ones looks and body actually make for a better quality person? It may improve ones confidence levels which in turn creates a happier or more productive person. It may improve career prospects. It has even been found (unfair as it seems) that other people respond more favorable to good looking people thereby making for a more positive life experience.
The physical aspect should be just ONE aspect of the whole picture. (There are exceptions of course for professionals whose careers hinge on their physical appearance. Their approach to it would certainly require more focus on the physical in order to sustain a career).
There is no doubt that most people dream of physical perfection or at least what they perceive as perfection and beauty. This is more prevalent today with media attention on physical beauty. One has to however use ones intelligence even while attempting to improve ones physical appearance. Indulging in procedures and practices that could eventually only harm ones health is a myopic approach to looking better.
Most people who start exercising do so with a single goal in mind – To lose weight. Fair enough. You have been told that weight matters and warned repeatedly about the ill hazards of being over weight More importantly, I suspect it is the search for the achievement of physical beauty that one sees as the end result of losing weight that drives one to exercise.
However, here’s the thing, firstly, there is no guarantee that losing weight alone will make you beautiful and secondly, we know that weight loss by dubious means (starvation diets being the most common) certainly don’t leave behind a pretty picture. You wind up looking gaunt and unhealthy; your skin, hair and nails suffer, you feel irritable and unhappy while on extreme calorie restricted diets, you don’t function well and certainly cannot be productive. You could develop nutritional deficiencies while on extreme calorie restricted diets. A deficiency of vitamin B 12 for instance (found most commonly in meats, whole milk and fermented food), could be disastrous to the brain and nervous system causing depression, fatigue even mania and psychosis. A deficiency of Iron (found in red meat, green leafy vegetables, soya beans, seeds nuts, pulses) which is required for the oxygenation of the muscles and important organs, can cause extreme fatigue, depression, sleepiness, breathlessness an inability to exercise and so on.
The next relevant problem you might face while trying to lose weight rapidly with some bizarre diet is how long can you sustain it? What happens when you stop? Eating unrealistic restricted diets is not only foolish, but also counterproductive for your health. Eating a balanced but moderately restricted diet with all the necessary nutrients however IS sustainable and in the long term, shows better (however slower) results.
‘Dieting’ therefore has to be done with care and cleverness. In fact the word ‘dieting’ itself needs to be reviewed as that brings up images of starvation and struggle! It certainly does not have to be. Training your body to eat the right foods in the right quantities is central to success. It is however not something one achieves overnight. It takes time and effort. Making small changes slowly makes the changes more sustainable. For instance – the simple act of cutting out the butter from your bread every morning (2 teaspoons for 2 slices of bread) will save you approximately 75 calories a day. This may seem like nothing, but in the long haul, it is a big deal. Consuming more fruit everyday keeps you sated and increases intake of important micronutrients. Drinking more water keeps you well hydrated and avoids the common mistake of confusing thirst with hunger. Cutting your alcohol intake can save you many, many unnecessary calories.
Aspire to improve your appearance by all means. Train to get a better body, visit the parlor to get that cutting edge haircut, wear the right clothes to look great and feel good…… It’s all up to you.
Stimulating the mind, nurturing a relationship, caring for friendships, growing a career, harboring and exploring a passion, indulging in a hobby, traveling, learning a new skill, going beyond your comfort zone interacting with people from different walks of life to gain an understanding of the bigger picture than your own circle of existence…… these are also important stimulants that add meaning to life…….Spend some valuable time on improving one’s SELF along the way. There is so much the world has to offer.
Physical fitness can certainly help us experience and participate in life more fully in order to enrich us. Let it then be a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Respecting our body, treating it well, nourishing it and exercising it in the right amounts has its own dividends besides just a more beautiful body. It instills discipline. Creates a body awareness, improves body intelligence, self-confidence. It helps you value yourself more and therefore live more thoughtfully and graciously.