Key basics to attaining and maintaining your physical fitness …

A retired couple decided they should walk two miles a day to stay in shape. They chose to walk a mile out on a lonely country road so they would have no choice but to walk back. At the one-mile mark on their first venture, the man asked his wife, “Do you think you can make it back all right, or are you too tired?”

“Oh no,” she answered, “I’m not tired, I can make it fine.”

“Good,” replied the husband. “I’ll wait here. You go back, get the car and come get me.”

Taking stock of your personal fitness level and deciding to improve it can be a challenge, often a bigger mental challenge than it is physically. But some good news is that regular exercise toughens the mind as well as the body. After working out three times a week for six months, one group was found to be 20 percent more fit. The bonus? They also scored 70 percent better in a test of complex decision-making.

Maybe you have taken stock of your current fitness level and are thinking you need to make some improvements. If you give good attention to some key basics to physical fitness, you’ll make progress! Those key basics can be summarized like this:

Appropriate physical activity, nutrition, and rest and relaxation
are keys to maximizing your physical fitness.

Let’s take a brief look at each one of these fitness basics:

You’ve probably heard the statement that a ship is safer in a harbor, but it wasn’t designed to sit anchored at harbor. Instead, a ship was designed to sail the open seas! In fact, it’s harder to maintain a ship that’s at anchor, as it is more prone to rust just sitting than when it’s sailing.

The same is true with the physical body; it wasn’t designed to be “anchored” or just to sit, but rather, it was designed to be active. Movement and activity are necessary sources designed for keeping our bodies physically fit.

God designed our bodies to be used! Historically, people used to have some level of manual labor or more active work as a part of their everyday lives. Recreation also used to be more physically active. Now, we spend long days sitting in chairs in front of computer screens before going home and entertaining ourselves in front of other screens playing video games, watching television, or indulging in Netflix movie marathons.

The result is that many of us have developed mostly sedentary lifestyles, which don’t provide for an adequate, natural maintenance of our physical bodies, and so we find ourselves lacking in physical fitness and more susceptible to serious health issues.

Adding regular workouts at the gym can be a great way to begin improving your fitness, but many people who do so remain sedentary outside of those gym workouts. A single workout for an hour usually can’t compete with all those other hours of sedentary lifestyle. It’s great to add times of exercise and physical workouts to your week, but those workouts aren’t to be the only movement and activity you have; instead, focused physical workouts should be a significant supplement to a more active lifestyle.

Thinking that a workout two or three times a week will overcome an otherwise sedentary way of living and working is an inaccurate assumption. In fact, new studies have revealed that living a sedentary life largely composed around sitting can be dangerous for our health, with one report calling sitting the “new cancer.” The American Cancer Society has reported the following:

“Did you know that sitting for six or more hours daily can elevate your chances of dying from cancer and other major disease — even if you maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke?

“This startling finding emerged from a review of data from the American Cancer Society’s Prevention Study II (CPS-II). Researchers concluded that:

  • Women who sat for six or more hours daily faced a 37 percent greater risk of death as compared to those who sat for three hours or less.
  •  For men, the increased risk of death for those who sat at least six hours daily was 17 percent.
  • Those who did not exercise regularly and also sat for long periods faced even greater mortality rates — a startling 94 percent higher for women and 48 percent higher for men.”

Another study revealed that we can help prevent such serious threats to our health, and contribute to improving our fitness, by standing and moving every 20 minutes. The study found the 20-minute mark to be optimal, but the bigger conclusion we can draw is the need for us to routinely stand and move a few times each hour that we’re awake.

New York Times Phys Ed columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, offers the following:

“Sitting for long periods of time — when you don’t stand up, don’t move at all —  tends to cause changes physiologically within your muscles,” says Reynolds. “You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat … in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you’re moving.”

With such data available, it’s no wonder that federal health guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise — such as walking or jogging — every single day. Standing, moving, becoming more active, and adding in 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day can make a significant difference in your fitness level and your health. Personally, I think working out at the gym at least three days a week and engaging in cardio exercise at least five to six days each week are valuable targets to aim for.

A farmer once planted two fruit trees on opposite sides of his property. One tree he planted as a hedge to hide the unsightly view of an old landfill; he planted the other tree to provide shade to rest under next to a cool mountain stream that ran down beside his fields. As the two trees grew, they both began to produce fruit.

One day the farmer decided to gather the fruit from the tree nearest his house, which was the one used to provide a hedge from the landfill. As he brought the fruit inside the house, he noticed it looked a little deformed; the symmetry of the fruit wasn’t good, although the fruit still looked edible. Later that evening, while sitting on his porch, the farmer took one of the pieces of fruit for a snack. Biting into the fruit, he found it to be extremely bitter and completely inedible.

Casting the worthless fruit aside, the farmer walked across the field to the other tree he had planted by the mountain stream, where he plucked a piece of fruit from it and bit into it. This fruit was sweet and delicious, so he gathered several more pieces of fruit and took them to his house.

One tree had as its source of nutrition a landfill — its roots reached down into a dump! The other had the mineral-rich earth fed by the crystal clear waters of a mountain stream. The nutrition of the tree determined the quality of its fruit.

The same is true for us!

Our nutrition, in its purest purpose for human beings, is fuel for our bodies. If we put junk into our bodies, doing so will eventually bring about negative and even dangerous results. If we fuel our bodies with clean, nutritious foods that provide what our bodies need and want, then positive results will come from doing so.

Some simple tips for providing our bodies with proper nutrition includes the following:

Eat “clean.” Instead of eating from a dump (feeding off junk food), instead provide your body with organic food. No fillers, no preservatives, no junk included just to heighten taste while infusing into your body something that isn’t good fuel for you.

Put some “nutrition” into your nutrition by actually eating what’s good for you You know, things like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, “healthy” fats, etc.

Don’t be a glutton! Today, we simply call that “portion control.” Stop eating platters of food and reduce your caloric intake to what is a healthy intake for you rather than eating emotionally, or just for pleasure. Remember, you’re fueling your body, not entertaining it!

A word about “rewards” and “treats.” It’s ironic that so many people who desperately need to improve their nutrition and overall fitness level (if not their baseline health itself) often have as the first question to starting a new commitment to better nutrition, “What about rewards and snacks?”

The best answer is, “Earn them!”

So many trainers just let it go, and people litter their new “nutrition plan” so full of “rewards” and “treats” that they’re not making any progress. We’re talking about your body, and what you put into it is entirely and completely within your control (generally speaking). STOP the pursuit of pleasure eating and only allow for “rewards” and “treats” once you’ve earned them by developing the practice of properly fueling your body. THEN the occasional reward or treat, or even a regularly planned, properly portioned dessert can be an acceptable part of your nutrition. But as long you feed the longing for those “rewards” and “treats,” you’ll likely not feed your body what it needs, or at least, not do so very well.

You know the old saying: all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. That’s because all work and no play (relaxation), along with inadequate rest, burns up our energy and indeed dulls us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Regardless of how busy we are, or what our responsibilities are, to acquire and maintain good physical fitness we need an appropriate amount of relaxation and rest for our minds and our bodies.

One researcher reported what just some of the benefits are for building into our lives time for relaxation and rest:

  • It contributes to restoring our energy. Just by allowing ourselves to slow down and just relax, as well as sleep, helps our “batteries” to recharge and generate new energy that can then be applied to our work and recreation.
  • It helps to repair our bodies. God designed our bodies to repair themselves from the daily wear and tear we impose on them, and this often happens while we rest. Most of us tend to skimp on our sleep time and push ourselves beyond appropriate physical limits on a daily basis, which prevents us from achieving optimal fitness and health. If we are constantly on the move and not getting enough sleep, we are using most of the energy we have to keep going. That means our bodies cannot devote enough energy to healing, so we suffer from fatigue or illness. Building in time for relaxation and rest allows our bodies the opportunity to direct our energy to healing and restoration.
  •  It contributes to calming our thoughts and improving our focus. When we set aside time to relax, we should also focus on quieting our thoughts and letting our minds rest. This can often be more restorative than the physical aspects of relaxation.
  • It helps to lift our mood. Relaxation can simply help us feel happier! Whether we let our thoughts drift aimlessly, lose ourselves in a good book, or listen to music, just the act of resting relieves stress and allows us to feel content.

It seems obvious that sleep is beneficial for us, but that doesn’t stop millions of people from severely depriving themselves of the sleep their bodies need. A Harvard medical school research project reported the following:

“Even without fully grasping what sleep does for us, we know that going without sleep for too long makes us feel terrible, and that getting a good night’s sleep can make us feel ready to take on the world.

“Scientists have gone to great lengths to fully understand sleep’s benefits. In studies of humans and animals, they have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions.”

So significant is the impact of sleep in more ways than one to our lives that the National Sleep Foundation recently conducted a special, two-year research project as part of it’s 25th anniversary to update their most-cited guidelines on how much sleep we really need at each age. The results of that research are presented in the chart below:

It’s your fitness! If you want to attain and maintain an appropriate level of fitness, you need to make important being active, getting regular exercise, providing your body with the nutrition it needs, and providing yourself with adequate relaxation and rest. The more you try to cut corners on these keys to fitness, the less likely it will be that you’ll maintain the fitness your body needs for health, wellness, and the enjoyment of living life well.


About James Scott, Jr.

Dr. James Scott, Jr. is a minister, Christian clinical therapist, author, former church planter, and now serves as Founder & President of the Scott Free Clinic.