Written by: Aaron Whitten

I had the good fortune of visiting a loved one over the holidays who was recently admitted to a nursing home. I say 'good fortune' not only from enjoying her company, but also from the clarification of goals that the trip provided. It had been many years since I had been exposed to an environment like a nursing home and it reminded me of the value of good health.

Everywhere I looked, my eyes were met with mere shadows of human beings; poor souls in such frail condition that their final objective may be only to pass out of this world. Being actively involved in the fitness industry, as many of you may be, I am typically surrounded by beautiful, healthy individuals who exude strength and vitality, so the visit to the nursing home was quite a shock. It reminded me of how crucial our quality of life is, and more importantly, that we are in a position to obtain that quality unlike any generation before us.

I would guess that the average age of the folks in that home would be around 75, meaning they were born around 1940. No generation has seen greater changes in the world around them than those who have lived during the first half of the last century. We could discuss the power of electricity, communications, and technology in general, but what may be the most important discovery of all is health.

Not just emergency medicine, which is very deserving of our gratitude, but of the knowledge we now possess to free ourselves of many crippling afflictions that used to be a mystery, or even assumed to occur in all people. In the latter half of this century we have obtained decisive scientific proof of the power of a healthy lifestyle, and that knowledge can transform our quality of life if we choose.

Those of us who are so passionate about our fitness goals should take the time to realize the most important goal of all: health. It is easy to dismiss it in this society, which seems to place little value on prevention, and more reliance on emergency medicine. This is inexcusable. Our generation has a huge advantage over any other in history. We have the ability to control one of the absolute most important aspects of our life, and we should use it.

Three Areas That Determine Good Health

  1. Nutrition
    • There are three primary areas that largely determine our health that are completely within our control. The first is nutrition. We take for granted our wisdom of the benefits of a low fat diet, but it wasn't always common knowledge. We cannot afford to ignore the importance of good diet on health. Minimizing saturated fats and increasing dietary fibers from wholesome, natural foods can reduce the risk of many cancers and heart disease. Insuring adequate fruit and vegetable intake provides our systems with many of the vitamins and mineral essential to all bodily functions.
    • Taking a good multivitamin/mineral supplement is also a very good idea, as well as a protein powder. Staying hydrated with lots of clean water is as important as food, too. Avoid junk foods of all types; they are manufactured to keep you fat and weak. Again, this is all common sense stuff, but we should make a strong effort to follow it. Our bodies can only rebuild with what is given to them to work with, so make it quality! Remember, what your body looks like in twenty, thirty or fifty years is determined by what you feed it today.
  2. Exercise
    • The second area to heed is exercise. Only fifty years ago, weight training was sure to ruin you, and running was bad for the heart. Today we have evidence very much to the contrary. Many of us enjoy the weight room but ignore the treadmill, which is a huge mistake. Also, many running addicts detest the dumbbells, which also compromises their overall health. We need both, people!
    • Neither is better than the other. We must pay attention to the heart and the muscular system for complete wellness. That 400 pound bench press won't matter if your arteries are clogged, nor will your 3 hour marathon benefit you if your arms are too weak to help you out of bed some days. Look at the big picture and how it relates to your current training. For awesome benefits, you can use the cardio machines as little as twice weekly, and the same goes for the weights. Make sure your program is balanced.
  3. Abstinence From Drugs
    • The third aspect of your healthy triangle should be abstinence from drugs and other chemicals that can negatively impact your longevity. The single greatest factor is smoking. Anyone remotely connected to the fitness industry shouldn't smoke, but it is not always the case. Many fitness buffs are hooked like the rest of the population, and why not? Those cancer sticks are addictive. But even more powerful than nicotine is the evidence against it. You can read scores of pages of data about the evils of smoking, but I prefer to keep it simple with my clients by asking them to remember just one phrase: If you smoke, you will die. That isn't dramatics folks, it's the truth.
    • "If you smoke, you will die."
    • You don't need to pay someone to slowly take your life, so the time to stop is now. And further your protection by avoiding second hand smoke. After smoking the most commonly abused drug is alcohol. Not only is it hell on your system, but the factors accompanying it are bad too. I am talking about the junk foods, the smoke in the bars and the sugars put into the drinks themselves. A drink or two isn't bad and may even benefit you, but know when to say when.
    • After smoking and alcohol, recreational drugs are commonly abused. We don't even know the long term effects of some of these substances, so playing doctor and self administering carries unknown and potentially deadly risks. This includes steroids. Be smart and stay natural. You will be glad you did many years from now.

So whether you are a competitive athlete or a newly joined gym addict, take time to truly prioritize your goals. What are you without your health? Pay attention to the foods you eat and the methods you use to train, and avoid unnecessary risks. Take some time to visit some folks at a local nursing home or hospital, and maybe it will put things in a new light. As a part of the fitness community, it is our responsibility to be an example of good health practices. Our generation has no excuse!