We’re living in an era where technological and scientific advances offer us invaluable knowledge about virtually everything. The field of health and wellness is no exception. Many studies and meta-analyses irrefutably demonstrate the benefits of physical exercise for every aspect of our health.
For just a few examples, it not only prevents the appearance of serious or chronic illnesses (cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, and hypertension), it also reduces mortality by 33%, regardless of cause, and prevents mental ailments like depression and Alzheimer’s.
We’re aware of the risks that lack of physical exercise entails, and we know that this medicine is much more powerful than any pill prescribed. Still, it’s not surprising to see that more than half of the world’s population doesn’t get the minimum level of physical activity recommended by the WHO (150-300 minutes of moderate exercise per week – walking, biking, dancing…)
Why do we ignore the risks a sedentary lifestyle poses for our physical and mental health? Why don’t we get moving? Our current lifestyle gives us a list of excuses, but we shouldn’t use these to justify what is actually often a lack of personal responsibility for our own self-care, as well as ignorance about the effects that physical exercise has on our work and our family and social surroundings.
A little history
Let’s start with a fundamental principle: the human being is designed to move, and our survival depended on that movement for thousands of years. Evolution hasn’t eliminated that need to stay in motion from our genes or our organs, muscles, bones, and joints.
But let’s keep going and check out a few fun facts from the past.
The importance of physical exercise is not new. If we look back, history offers some lessons about how being physically fit has influenced many societies since before the Common Era. This was the case with Stoicism, a philosophy that promoted the idea that the mind and body needed challenges to be strengthened.
The Greeks trained physically for war, and they valued physical excellence and athletic abilities as sublime aspects for the solidity of their society and civilization.
The Romans came up with the saying, “mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body. This concept of mental and physical health has evolved over the centuries.
And then there’s England during World War I. The British army created the so-called ”Football Battalion,” which consisted of 400 professional and amateur soccer players, reflecting the known advantage of physical well-being on the battlefield.
As you can see, the knowledge that people’s physical well-being is important not only on an individual level but even for a nation is as old as life itself. This is where we find a modern leader highlighting the need to stay fit (in a context a little different from where we find ourselves today, it’s true).
The case of John F. Kennedy
In 1960, John F. Kennedy (from now on, JFK) promoted the “physical fitness statement,” encouraging the American people to exercise for individual benefit and for that of the nation. JFK understood that if Americans were physically healthy, they would also be emotionally, spiritually, and mentally healthy. He also linked physical fitness with intellectual activity and the development of people’s full potential, enabling them to take the opportunity to make the best possible use of all their abilities.
During the Korean War, the decline in American soldiers’ strength and physical abilities was evident, followed by publications showing that many men were rejected for service because they were mentally or physically unfit. JFK stressed that young Americans lagged far behind Europeans and the Japanese in their physical fitness, and the ongoing neglect of this sphere endangered the country’s defense of freedom and threatened its security.
As he was aware that wars were not won by a few weeks of basic training but by maintaining an active life from school on, JFK raised this issue to the national level and launched a national program to improve the fitness of all Americans. He created a Committee on Physical Fitness, held the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare accountable, and invited all governors to lead, get engaged with, and participate in both fitness programs as well as the annual National Youth Fitness Conference.
Physical exercise “here and now”
Today, a sedentary lifestyle is an invisible global pandemic that isn’t talked about enough, yet it entails millions in public spending that we can’t ignore.
JFK’s views on the importance of exercise for citizens and their country against the backdrop of wartime and national security are fortunately not a reality in many places worldwide. Beyond that, one thing we can definitely bring into our current reality, something that JFK very rightly stressed, is that will, determination, and effort are fundamental ingredients to outdo ourselves and achieve our goals for physical fitness, life, and anything else. This is where we can connect that moment with our “here and now.”
Comforts, immediacy, stress, and life’s frenetic pace are the perfect excuses for not taking control of our lives and our health, for letting inertia and laziness guide us. Making the commitment and taking responsibility for our own health and physical and mental well-being are essential in today’s world.
Let’s take advantage of all the knowledge that wasn’t available before and utilize it for ourselves. We know that staying active improves our concentration, creativity, and efficiency in solving complex tasks, which improves our performance in the workplace. Our motivation, mood and mental health generally see a noticeable improvement, and there are countless physiological effects that are highly beneficial for our bodies.
Since this is the case, why don’t we take charge of our own health and well-being and set an example for our children on how to live a better and fuller life? Physical exercise entails living with values; it gives us mental strength and surprises us by teaching us how far we can go. It can change us and even save our lives.
Now, let’s get moving!