It is an extraordinary reality that today, as more people are aware of the fundamentals benefits of a healthy diet and a physically active life, more people than ever are choosing to live in unhealthy ways. The contrast almost appears exponential; as modern society indulges in poor choices, the same society more emphatically discusses the issue. Adults are letting themselves go, which in turn promotes obesity and lack of exercise in children, and all concerned are simultaneously inundated with evidence definitively pointing out the many disadvantages and dangers of such living. It is certainly true that revising a diet and restructuring a routine in order to be healthy is no easily done, or casual, commitment. Moreover, such changes are of no real value unless they are consistently practiced; society is not lacking in individuals who enthusiastically seek to alter their lifestyles and who, weeks or months later, fall back into the same, unhealthy patterns.
Understanding the real nature of a commitment to health and fitness, however, must serve to encourage it, because the inescapable reality being discussed is personal well-being. As will be discussed, we very much live in a “quick fix” world, and a person’s continued state of wellness cannot be achieved quite so conveniently. Only when the real benefits to eating well and exercising are fully comprehended can there be an effective and lasting motivation, just as the appearances of those benefits begins to render the commitment easier to make. In simple terms, a healthy diet and a fitness regime, undertaken with a mature sense of the obligation involved, bring rewards far exceeding the demands initially made.
Life and Lifestyle
As noted, today’s world offers a striking conundrum. The average person is at least partially educated as to the basics of physical fitness, as they are also well aware that processed foods are not nutritious, and that a lack of proper nutrition negatively affects the mind and body. So widespread is this elementary knowledge, in fact, that it becomes difficult to attach a reason for the modern epidemic of obesity. These are simple facts, and even obese people may often recall how much better they felt, and how much more they were able to do and enjoy, being lapsing into an unhealthy state. The question then becomes: what is it that must be persuaded against, in order to generate commitment to health? What clearly enormous element is preventing millions of people from doing what is best for themselves, and which also, not incidentally, is known to impart a sense of well-being?
The answer is painful, but unavoidable. In plain terms, most of us are so far removed from jobs or lifestyle that require physical fitness, we adapt to be able to do only what we must. It may be a gross generalization, but the reality remains that, in centuries past, people had no access to processed foods or easy transportation. Then, employment was also not yet facilitated by technologies “doing the work,” and stamina and actual strength were more the order of the day. With progress, then, has come lethargy. We ride to work, when we are unable to even do it from the comfort of home. We microwave processed meals, eat at restaurants notoriously unconcerned with nutrition but offering a great deal of fat and sugar, and we actually applaud ourselves when we make the effort to buy and prepare organic foods. Moreover, these are not merely normal patterns or activities in living; they are essential components of the modern lifestyle mentality which insists, above all else, on speed, ease, and instant gratification. The point may seem simplistic or trite, but it is nonetheless accurate. The modern lifestyle is the enemy, and it is an enemy we ourselves have created and embrace.
This mentality is so insidious and rampant that it has bolstered the pharmaceutical industry, and created marketing campaigns that actually seek to revise sensible thinking and eviscerate personal responsibility. In a recent work bearing the significant name of, The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living, a doctor unashamedly promotes varieties of drugs created and sold to address symptoms and disorders caused by poor diet and obesity. High blood pressure, for instance, often produced by obesity, may be treated by Inderal, a beta-blocker that reduces stress. This, and not efforts to make the body healthier, is what is recommended (Clayton 13). A cycle appears to emerge, one generated by, and greatly reinforcing, just how deeply ingrained this mode of lifestyle is in the ordinary consciousness. There is no need to address a cause when the distressing symptoms may be treated. There is no need to take responsibility for one’s own body, when powerful industries are eager to supply an endless parade of drugs to lessen the ill effects of such irresponsibility. The basics, then, of what goes into the body and how that body is exercised, become more distanced.
Before any specific ideas regarding fitness are presented, then, it is important that one understanding be in place. It is one seemingly obvious, yet largely ignored: there is no lifestyle without a life, and there is no good lifestyle when the essentials of the life are abused or neglected. To encourage fitness and healthy eating as necessarily discarding all modern comforts is both unnecessary and self-defeating. We are all going to take advantage of conveniences, as we should to some extent. What matters, however, is a focus on the fundamental concerns which must enhance any lifestyle at all. With attention to what is eaten and efforts made to keep fit, the entirety of the individual is, in a word, elevated. As there is no strict dichotomy between mind and body, the betterment of the latter serves the health of the former, and both combine to generate an emotional balance and sense of well-being. In other words, the decision to be healthy is not a decision to adopt a lifestyle; rather, it is the choice made to be the healthiest person one can be, and consequently better enabled to enjoy any lifestyle at all.
Diet and Exercise
If actual statistics are required to induce change in regard to eating habits, they are plentiful. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, barely 12 percent of all Americans maintain reasonably healthy diets. Perhaps not unexpectedly, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are all directly linked to poor diet (Chern, Rickertsen 73). As noted, a basic awareness of these realities is known to the general population, yet it seems that most people would choose to undergo extreme exercise rather than surrender their food preferences. Something of this perverse feeling is due to the nature of processed foods, of course. Sugar and fat are not merely appealing to the human palate, they are addictive. The addictive properties are not as chemically-based as those of narcotics, but they are nonetheless potent; as sugars and carbohydrates trigger rises in seratonin levels, elevated moods result (Whitney, Rolfes 127). The line between craving and addiction, then, blurs, and the former is so indulged in that it reflects the nature of the latter. Then, there is no discounting the element of human laziness when it comes to diet. It is easier to open a package than prepare a nutritious meal, and the individual may as well assert that it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that the packaged food is healthy. All of these components, then, combine to create a dismal scenario. It is simply much easier to eat unhealthily, as there are the rewards of gratification built into the process. It then also seems all the more radical to insist on a departure of this kind of eating.
The reality is far different, and not much of a departure at all, once the individual reflects for a moment on what is already known. No one is suggesting that going without sweet or rich tastes is necessary for health; we are all human and we all like such tastes very much. Instead, what must be accepted is that the human body – and palate – is constructed to appreciate these things in their natural forms, so a discarding of them as artificially heightened only changes the scale of taste and appreciation. The person consuming fatty chocolate cake every day is not likely to salivate over a serving of plain, fresh blackberries. When the cake is stopped, however, the natural sugars in the berries produces precisely the same pleasure, as well as not adding unhealthy preservatives and processed sugars to the mix. All that the change to the healthy diet requires is the minimal time for the body to adjust to the natural levels of taste better for it; the appreciation will remain the same, if not stronger.
That this appreciation for healthy foods is enhanced by physical fitness is not an optimistic wish, but a reality. In encouraging a proper diet and exercise, it must be absolutely understood that these twin focuses generate a well-being far beyond the sum of their parts. It is long established, should any concrete evidence be necessary, that being fit translates to lessened risk of disease, increased energy levels, and over-all higher degrees of well-being. For some time, controversy surrounded the release of Endorphins as “natural opiates” produced by the body during exercise, but the latest research nonetheless confirms that mood elevation generated by these neurotransmitters is consistent (Harrington 348). Moreover, this is not merely a temporary “high,” but usually a sustained sense of well-being prompted by lessened anxiety. As most people would agree, the ability to appreciate or enjoy anything is directly related to mood. Consequently, keeping fit serves to enhance virtually all behaviors and activities simply because the fit individual is poised to make the most of them. Mental and emotional fitness, in no uncertain terms, typically accompany physical fitness. The individual enjoys better rest and sleep, respiration is more full, and the brain takes in more oxygen because the machinery of the body is functioning more efficiently. It is a seemingly “cold” formula, but the rewards of fitness go to very human senses of satisfaction. When fitness is undertaken with a commitment to healthy eating, the potential for feeling better is immeasurable.
Obstacles and Arguments
Both fitness and healthy diet seem to generate the same issues, when debate is engaged. One is the inescapable one of effort. To alter the diet equates to taking time and expending energy beyond what is normally done. As we do indeed live in a world of processed foods, eating in a way consistently avoiding such foods demands attention and, more often then not, time. It is not laziness, or even a disinclination to be healthier, that stands in the way; it is that eating healthy requires an excessive effort. Similarly, engaging in any type of exercise, as with diet, usually reflects good intentions thwarted when the demands of time and effort become evident. Linked to this is the reality that, even when feeling unwell, people are not disposed to attribute the state to their lack of attention to these issues. It may even be reasonably argued that, for many, not feeling good is a normal state of being. When this is the case, there is no perception that change is needed or even desirable. It is ironic, but the inability to know or recall the sensations of feeling physically healthy serves to promote a lack of interest in working towards it. The reward, simply, is unknown, and therefore of little value.
Such obstacles are rational only when reason itself is ignored. No matter how unhealthy a person has allowed themselves to become, it is nonetheless to be expected that there is an innate knowledge supporting just how beneficial healthy eating and exercise are. This knowledge is not merely supported by virtually every piece of research on the human condition ever revealed, but by a sense of what we are as existing in all of us. We know, and as irrefutably as we know anything, that being nutritionally sound and physical fit creates a better and more content being. We know, moreover, that we wish to live long, and to be able to enjoy the longer life. These are not minor aspirations, as they go to the heart of human life. When this is considered in its entirety and enormity, the burdens of adjusting schedules to allow for better eating and time for exercise become the trivial factors they are. In no uncertain terms, staying fit and eating well creates the individual at their best, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Issues of inconvenience, then, are inconsequential by any remotely rational standard of assessment.
To the person who sees the inescapable wisdom in making a commitment to eat in a healthy way and be fit, the primary suggestion to be offered is that there are no “rules.” More exactly, we are unique beings, and we must temper everything we do accordingly. It is certainly not recommended that they toss out everything currently in their refrigerator and then do an hour of push-ups. Rather, they should take the time to sensibly assess the best course based on their current state of living and health. Nonetheless, a deeply felt sense of commitment is called for. This is not a leap of faith or a traumatic adoption of a new land, but it must be understood that there is no point to any effort if the realities of it are not known and accepted. The idea is to make a better and happier person, and not add to the ranks of the backsliders.
This understood, the process of acceptance should be undergone with a firm grasp of the expanse of the reality. There is no way around it: eating better and exercising will improve anyone’s life, and in ways they cannot yet even comprehend. Few pursuits in life come with so implacable a guarantee. This must be in the individual’s mind from the start because that knowledge will set the burdens and inconveniences in the proper and miniscule sphere they belong. It may also be trusted, as assuredly as the “results” will be satisfying, that the process creates its own rewards along the way, just as increased health and well-being renders it more desirable to continue on.
An inherent difficulty in encouraging healthy eating and fitness is that a sort of “evangelical” tone is associated with such endorsements. There is a sense conveyed to many that hours of torturous exercise and denial of pleasure are being promoted, all going to the creation of some idealized specimen. The reality is otherwise. In today’s world, where processed foods, specious drugs, and convenience combine to produce a lethargic and generally unwell population, it is all the more necessary to understand that eating well and exercising do no more than generate health and well-being, no matter the individual’s lifestyle. As it is difficult to conceive of a state more desirable than consistently feeling good, and as this state is an inevitable result of fitness and good diet, absolutely no reasonable objection may stand in the way. Being healthy is not an adjunct to life; it is life, and at its best in all senses. This is human reality, and a healthy diet and a fitness program, undertaken with a mature sense of the commitment involved, bring rewards vastly exceeding whatever demands are made.
Chern, W. S., & Rickertsen, K. Health, Nutrition, and Food Demand. Cambridge: CABI Publishing, 2003. Print.
Clayton, D. J. The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living: How to Survive Your Bad Habits. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
Harrington, R. (2012). Stress, Health and Well-Being: Thriving in the 21st Century. Belmont: Cengage Learning.