An Integrated Outlook on Fitness

By Mark Lundegren

Are you one of those people who has it all…intelligence, physical fitness, natural good looks, lasting happiness, a personality that invites others, and maybe musical or another creative talent? If you answered, “not quite,” would you like to be this way?

The truth is not just that we can have or be all these things, but that we naturally are all these things. In an area of findings that can lead to new insights into our life and health potential, these various attributes have been shown in research to be natural aspects or qualities of a complete, integrated, and healthy human being. They have also been shown to increase or diminish together…as our natural health improves or as it is reduced.

As natural beings and highly-evolved social animals, possessing these essential features of successful human life is our expected condition and not an exceptional state – whenever we are naturally and fully expressed as people, balanced, vital, and well. When we are in the “not quite” category, or worse, this is a sign that our overall health and natural vitality have been compromised, underdeveloped, or misunderstood.

Fortunately, there are specific health-enhancing steps we each can take to activate these important attributes of our lives, beginning with an exploration of the idea that our natural health and fitness are essential to fostering successful life. This exploration, in turn, can lead to an important new health understanding that sees our individual state of fitness as an integrated and self-influencing state or system, one that naturally reaches across and influences many aspects of our lives.

Lessons from research

A new meta-analysis of thriving children by researchers at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam underscores this critical and often greatly under-appreciated idea – that our lives are natural systems of overlapping inputs and outputs, ones that ultimately reflect and determine our health and fitness.

In a pattern of findings we see in many well-being studies, the researchers concluded that physical fitness improvements were strongly associated with increased mental and adaptive fitness. These findings add to a growing body of science that shows even relatively narrow health and fitness interventions can help us and improve our lives  more broadly.

The VU University analysis looked at 14 prior studies comparing levels of both structured and unstructured exercise with academic achievement, mental performance, and physical health. The researchers demonstrated that the studies showed these diverse personal attributes are significantly and positively correlated.

Overall, this new  research supports the related ideas that: 1) simple natural health practices matter a great deal in our overall fitness and vitality, and 2) their power and far-reaching effects reveal the deeply interconnected state of our natural functioning – that little occurs in or changes part of us only. Each of ideas has tremendous implications for how we look upon and lead our lives each day.

Although the conclusions that health practice are important and even that our health and personal attributes are naturally enmeshed may be unsurprising upon reflection, in daily life we often think and behave as if our overall personal attributes are more disparate. By this, we refer to our common and perhaps natural tendency to treat the health and state of our brains, bodies, and behavior as separate, individually-varying, and to some degree unalterable phenomena, rather than as the closely-linked, interrelated, and changeable dimensions of life that they are in fact.

A more integrated view

You can informally test both the general validity and our frequent misperception of these essential ideas about naturally healthy life for yourself. To do this, start by considering people you know fairly well – making short lists of friends who: 1) more or less “have it all” as described above, 2) struggle in many of these key domains of natural human life, and 3) are in a middle condition somewhere between outright struggle and success.

From your list-making and knowledge of the people in your analysis, perhaps you will begin to better appreciate that an underlying connection exists between our physical, cognitive, and behavioral states, and between the assurance of our overall health and general balance, success, and happiness in life. The study or discussion of the influential connections between various aspects of  our lives is often referred to by the term holistic health, signifying that what happens in one aspect of our lives can have impacts in other or all aspects of them.

If you would like to explore this natural connectedness of our major life and health dimensions more deeply, next consider people you know who have turned their lives and health around (or the reverse). Here, it is fairly common to find that a single initial change in one area led to a spreading improvement (or a spreading regression) that ultimately affected many areas of the person’s life. Importantly, this increasing or compounding quality of effects suggests not only strong correlation between our personal attributes but a circular or cyclical dynamic underlying the various aspects of our health and quality of life.

A helpful way of thinking about this interacting dynamic is that we naturally grow or shrink ourselves into one of many possible “life-types” of varying quality, much like musical notes are formed into chords with different pitches and textures. This fitting process is influenced by the natural drives within us and the circumstances around us. It is then propelled forward as we and others make choices in different domains of our life – notably ones that influence our health and fitness, or our exposure to alternative choices – steering us toward and reinforcing a particular state of being. Importantly, as we move to and habituate within a given life-type, other possible types and our overall options for change often recede from our regular perceptions. The effect is to further reinforce our evolved identify and way of life, and to make our lives seem far more inevitable and less malleable than they are in reality.

Because our lives are evolved, self-influencing, and often naturally reinforcing in this way, it is especially important to our long-term health and life quality today to seek progressive awareness of ourselves and our environment, and of course to choose wisely – whatever and wherever the choice may be. This is especially true in the comparative freedom of modern life, an environment that is greatly at odds with our natural setting in many important respects, demanding that  we rise to the occasion of our new human milieu in order to live naturally, vitally, and happily.

Re-balancing our outlook and actions

When we examine the world in this way – if not more objectively then at least more attentively – we become more likely to see that: 1)  the different dimensions of successful life are deeply rooted in and reflect our overall health, 2) these critical life dimensions are interrelated, interact, and are best pursued holistically, 3) we often naively or superficially treat our essential life qualities and personal choices as separate objects or occurrences, and 4) we frequently fail to see our personal features and choices in the context of natural human life and health.

With these new perspectives, perhaps you will agree that you initially looked at the attributes or character of the people in your sample set in a more limited way, emphasizing or isolating one or two attributes where many actually exist in a larger and interacting pattern – which we might characterize as either progressing, inhibiting, or regressing health and fitness. In fact, it is well-understood that we generally simplify in this way when perceiving others, and when perceiving ourselves, unless we take time and employ specific strategies to expand our general outlook and health awareness. While this process of simplification may have been useful in our earlier life and natural context, today it can greatly reduce our growth and adaptability, reinforcing our patterns of functioning and keeping us from higher order life-types otherwise available to us.

On this crucial point, we would add that modern life provides us with many instructive examples of this tendency to look at our and other people’s life attributes more simply and in isolation – notably when we find ourselves or others emphasizing a single aspect of successful life. This might include an overriding focus on professional success or personal pleasure, while perhaps neglecting other critical health dimensions such as physical health or critical relationships, or allowing our natural sensitivity and creativity to be subordinated to pressures for conformity or extrinsic projects.

As suggested, the truth of naturally successful life is that these and other forms of personal imbalance and natural health neglect actively and often unconsciously alter us more broadly, progressively reducing our natural functioning, adaptiveness, and overall quality of life. The new VU University study showing that children with artificially low physical activity have reduced natural mental fitness is a good reminder of the integrated nature of our health, but there are many other health relationships of this kind waiting to either limit or increase our life potential each day.

Together, they underscore the need to approach our health and lives holistically, systemically, naturally, and progressively.

Important takeaways

Here are five important takeaways for integrated natural health and fitness, taken from a variety of research into flourishing human life and applicable in any setting or time of life:

  1. Physical fitness and physiological health matter a lot in achieving naturally vibrant life  – we should therefore make sure we are as physically healthy and fit as we can be through natural eating and exercise each day
  2. Health efforts should be balanced across and attentive to the totality of our lives – we can and should seek to have or be it all, at least when it comes to contributors or dimensions of natural human excellence and intrinsically full and happy life
  3. We must address obvious health limitations or quality of life detractors quickly and decisively – since they are very likely to lead to multi-dimensional life impacts, and often unexpectedly and more significantly than we may realize or intuitively appreciate
  4. Start small…and almost anywhere – since the key dimensions of our health and quality of life are dynamic and interact, positive sustained change anywhere can have impacts everywhere…for this reason, looking for or breaking issues into small actionable steps can lead to large and increasing improvements in our lives (the general strategy of small rapid steps aimed at more adaptive life has been shown best at creating positive personal change)
  5. Natural life and health mastery lessons apply broadly – they can help us not only when we are nurturing ourselves, but equally when we are parenting or coaching others and even when guiding and cultivating groups and organizations

Take a minute to review the VU University research at Try Exercise and its lessons about the integrated nature of our lives and health. Then learn about HumanaNatura’s complete and naturally open-ended system for progressive lifelong and lifewide health and personal thriving at The Four HumanaNatura Techniques.

Photo courtesy of Athlete.

Mark Lundegren
 is the founder of HumanaNatura.

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