5. ARE YOU FIT FOR THE JOB?
Introduction: physical fitness is the basis
John F Kennedy said, ‘physical fitness provides the basis for everything we do. It is the root of dynamic and creative activity.’ My claim is more straightforward. Without a measure of physical fitness and some respect for the human body, many of our aims will prove to be less achievable.
Roger Bannister was the first man, in 1953, to run a mile (1.6 kilometres) in under 4 minutes. He reflected on how the nature of life and work had changed. Physical exercise (labour) plays now a lesser role. Therefore, it is very important that we compensate for this. He was convinced that there was a role for running here. ‘Running helps us to do other things better. It gives a man or woman a chance to bring out the power which might otherwise remain inside.’
Running is a favourite pastime of mine because it can be done anywhere, according to my own rules and at little cost and, in terms of its effect on general fitness, is probably the most productive. I have played many different sports, some to a respectable level, but I running remains the basis. This is both physically and psychologically. And under running I include everything which moves us forward on our own two feet, where at least, during certain intervals, there is only one foot in contact with the ground.
Of course, running is not the only way to achieve fitness. But however you plan to reach your desired level, it must be feasible, the facilities must be available and there must be room in your diary.
In 2003, I was involved in a career transition, returning to my original actuarial profession from a management function. This was somewhat forced on me following a restructuring of my organisation. I was unsettled for a time, but running provided peace of mind. I trained to take part in a relay race between Rotterdam and Paris. The goal was to raise money for the Daniel de Hoet clinic for children who are being treated for various forms of cancer. I ran 75 kilometres as my contribution to a team of eight runners. One of the eight always had to be running. This was a question of team management. I not only received a lot of pleasure from the endeavour and teamwork at a difficult time, but also from the fact we were helping children who would never be able to enjoy physical fitness and pursue the sports which gave us so much.
Why is fitness important?
You might actually say where is physical fitness not important? It is essential for countering diminishing stamina, reducing sickness absence, controlling body weight, maintaining powers of concentration, managing stress, recovering quickly, being highly motivated and having personal pride and confidence.
However, fitness, once at the desired level, requires maintenance otherwise it declines, but more importantly, the subsequent bodily effects from lapsed training can be negative.
According to the Harvard Medical School, sport stimulates the capacity of the brain. The dopamine system responds to physical activity.
Some more technical aspects
Fitness is achieved by managing an increased but regular number of heart beats induced by exercise. Your maximum heart beat rate should not exceed 220 minus your age (Karvonen’s formula). Lactic acid builds up in the muscles, ultimately reducing performance, unless you remain under this level. In fact, it is recommended not to exceed 160% to 170% of the number of heart beats at rest level.
The body extracts energy from various sources, for example; sugar, carbohydrates and fats. But there is only one which is never exhausted and that is fat. Fat burning is slow and the body needs to adjust to this by requiring energy only gradually, running slowly for instance. Further the sugar intake needs to reduce (drastically) otherwise the body will turn to this reservoir. Carbohydrates were popular, particularly under marathon runners, but the body finds these often difficult to manage. So an important ingredient in exercise is slow running, or, in any event, very rhythmical running. Chi-running can help here, where gravity (leaning forward) is used to propel a relaxed body. So slow down! You are the hunter not the hunted. Further, other aspects of bodily functioning also improve, because they then have more energy which is readily on tap.
Conclusion: what is your plan to achieve physical fitness?
There are lots of areas which I haven’t touched on, such as the effect of dopamine and serontin which are produced in the body during exercise. Also the ways to regulate breathing and the ways to relax during exercise, and many others.
But let’s end on an optimistic note with the advantages of running quoted by Runners Magazine in August 2015 (but, of course, to a certain extent, applicable to other forms of exercise in relation to the degree to which the heart beat is required to be increased):
- running helps to generate new brain and nerve cells and to improve the plasticity of the brain to adapt to changing environments;
- the volume of blood which is pumped around the body can increase by a factor of 6;
- muscle fibres and bones become stronger;
- the volume of air being circulated through the body can be increased by as much as 20 times.
But even if you decide against the more strenuous forms of exercise, it is generally recommended, that, per day, there should be at least a half hour of physical exercise. So volunteer more regularly to take the dog for a walk and cycle to your work if this possible. But this is just a stab in the right direction. In my view everybody needs their own plan, possibly after consulting a professional coach or a doctor. I would recommend that you commit yourself to a weekly physical routine – what is yours?