Frail and Brittle

 We are living in precarious times.  The fragility of our economy has placed many of us in a state of mental insecurity.  We are experiencing a cash and credit crunch that are unprecedented in this current generation’s lifetime.  It is not a coincidence that at the time when our economy is at its lowest point that Americans have not been this fat and out of shape than any other time in our history.  However, the good news is that the tools needed to overcome the challenges of our lack of physical fitness are in our hands.

In 1960 President-elect John F. Kennedy wrote an article for Sports Illustrated called “The Soft American.”  In it, he described a grave situation regarding the physical state of our youth and countrymen.  His words still ring true nearly fifty years later. It is a must-read for anyone truly interested in health and strength and are looking for some motivation.  His philosophies and thoughts served as my inspiration.

Preisdent Kennedy’s notion that the longevity of overall personal excellence lies in health and strength.  Without good health and physical strength, we are but an empty shell and can only reach our partial potential, which is very wasteful of our most basic personal and professional resources.  According to President Kennedy, “the physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.”

I submit that if in 1960, Americans were on the verge of becoming soft, in 2009, we are the verge of becoming frail and brittle well before our time.  Millions of Americans suffer from illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity. The 1996 Surgeons General Report tells the following grim story:

  • 13.5 million people have coronary heart disease.
  • 1.5 million people suffer from a heart attack in a given year.
  • 8 million people have adult-onset (non-insulin–dependent) diabetes.
  • 95,000 people are newly diagnosed with colon cancer each year.
  • 250,000 people suffer from a hip fractures each year.
  • 50 million people have high blood pressure.
  • Over 60 million people (a third of the population) are overweight. 

    According the Mashaun D. Simon, in a recent Black Enterprise article, Losing the war on weight: obesity rates growing for African Americans, African Americans are steadily growing around the waistline. According to the National Health Report, United States, 2005, obesity in black women and black men jumped almost 11 and 7 percentage points, respectively, between 1994 and 2002.  The statistics are alarming–over 60% of African American males and nearly 80% of African American females are overweight.

    “Economic stability, resource accessibility, and awareness are three factors causing people to pack on the pounds, says Annie G. Cam, public health nutritionist from the Center for Disease Control when addressing the epidemic of obesity in minority populations.  “The most nutritious foods are unavailable; if they are [available], they are too costly. And the communities …[minority populations tend to] live in are not conducive to regular physical activity.”  Irrespective of the underlying environmental causes of obesity in the African-American community, a fundamental paradigm shift must take place such that individuals are positioning themselves to overcome these obstacles and place their health and reaching their potential at the forefront of their minds.  The primary thought process must be “I need to take care of myself to allow be to achieve my personal and professional aspirations and assist those that I love.”

    As a personal trainer, I have heard from countless people that they are shocked at the level of deconditioning and adverse body composition in which they find themselves. People create and allow habits that are void of appropriate priorities in regards to health and strength.  The two concepts must exist in the form of daily and weekly habits to not only maintain the God-given gifts of health and vitality, but to redefine current trends in society’s physical state.

    It is interesting to note the various “things” we can see on the news that are endangering our youth…drugs, sex, gang violence.  Poor health due to lack of sound nutrition and adequate physical activity should be high on that list of things that are considered “menaces to society.”  Instead of cutting physical fitness programs in our schools and allowing finances to be the excuse, we should be looking at the real culprits…parents that fail to prioritize children having healthy and balanced meals prior on a daily basis.  It is the parents that don’t teach the importance of diverse and habitual physical activity to their children kids and set poor examples by their own inactivity. Often, these children are unwittingly set on a life-long course of physical irresponsibility that leads to a lifetime of obesity.

    Just as it is our financial responsibility not to spend more that we have or take on mortgages that we know we can not afford.  We must not eat more food than our bodies can metabolize (burn off to reduce/avoid excess body fat).  It is important for our financial resources to work for us by investing well and saving money. We must likewise invest in our bodies, by using our muscles and training ourselves to increase the availability of our physical selves to serve us actively long past the vitality trends we are current experiencing.

    President Kennedy so appropriately stated in 1960…”physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.
    In this sense, physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society. And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.”

    Sean Armstead, Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert
    Sean Armstead is the co-owner of Phenomenal Fitness