Can you survive?

Hopefully our world is beginning its return to “normal.” What actually is “normal?” Were you happy with your “normal?” Will “normal” change for you? Did you and your loved ones survive the last 18 months and would you be prepared experience that again?

An interesting concept by Pamela Peeke, MD, asks the questions are you fit to live and are you fit to survive. Her book “Fit to Live” (Rodale 2007) spawned a Discovery show titled “Could you Survive?” Dr. Peeke surmised then that more than physical fitness was needed to survive daily life and prepare for a curveball like we just experienced. Surviving daily to catastrophic stressors requires insight, commitment and work. Dr. Peeke suggests that to be fit-to-live five critical elements must be woven together for success: mental, nutritional, physical, financial and environmental fitness.

Successfully adjusting to changing conditions by adaptation and resilience is the goal of mental fitness. Mental fitness is arguably the most important to survive the type of year we have just experienced. A study of seniors revealed those embraced hard work, accepting the pain of that hardship, throughout their lives and by learning new skills and habits as they aged were less likely to be fearful or depressed by stressors such as change. Meditation and practicing mindfulness are recommended.

Nutrition, as it affects every cell in our body is essential to being fit to live. The American diet continues to consist of overly refined foods: processed foods, too much sugar, fat and salt, heavy in additives, preservatives and artificial flavors. Since the brain will ultimately be the recipient of what is taken in foods heavy in chemicals can disturb the systems in the brain that control impulse, process rewards, develop addictive behaviors and ultimately handle stress. An interesting study pitted a whole-food diet vs a processed-food diet of the same calories. A whole-food diet is suggested.

Functional physical fitness is the key to keeping the physical body strong enough to combat all stressors. Functional fitness mimics work you do in normal activities: balancing, twisting, bending, pulling and pushing. Aerobic exercise has a profound positive affect on cognition, brain structure, behavior and psychosocial functioning.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted saying “the first wealth is health.” Many will see a revolving door: financial health will directly impact physical health. The more wealth you have the lower risk of disease and premature death. People with lower incomes are three-times more likely to have physical limitations and disabilities due to chronic illness. 60 percent of people with higher incomes meet the physical activity recommendations compared to 36 percent in lower income households. Return to play, to survival.

Get outside: walk, hike, play games, ride a bike — think like you had to do the activity to survive, to fight a battle.

Lastly, create a healthy, nurturing environment where you work, live and play. Many things in this category have the ability to increase stress, leading to a breakdown of one or more of the other areas. Consider how you manage relationships with people, places and things in your home, work and outdoor space. A study showed that a cluttered, chaotic living environment has the potential to cause stress that increases anxiety and depression. The outdoor environment can be a place for healing — spending time outside every day elevates the mood and increases longevity in older adults.

As you think through these five focuses (with the last year in mind) you are able draw lines between and through all of them, further connecting the mind and body with the world outside. All are an important piece to the puzzle, “are you fit to live?”

Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org.

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