Today I had the opportunity to attend the Exercise is Medicine conference held here in town. It was a great day; full of lots of wonderful information, great people, and I got some continuing education credits and a delicious and healthy lunch. The speakers were inspiring and exciting and amped up about exercise and medicine and bridging the gap between physicians and health professionals (except for one particular physician, who played the ‘this is why it doesn’t work’ role, which, while slightly disconcerting, it was actually refreshing to hear a candid perspective from a real physician).
A year or two ago, I would have left inspired following the conference and ready to go out and change the world. Today, I left a little disillusioned.
Not that it wasn’t a great conference, or that I am ungrateful for the opportunity. That is far from the truth. But, everything that was discussed – the importance of exercise, the prevalence of chronic conditions, the healthcare costs and the statistics – none of it is new news. For someone who has been working in the fitness field since 2006, who has worked in many different avenues of the fitness and wellness world, I have become rather disenchanted with the healthcare and fitness industry as a whole.
The thing is, that old adage is right: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
You can throw out all the healthcare and cost statistics in the world; you can inundate people with the message of how important exercise is for your health; you can drown the public in messages about the importance of healthy foods…. And all of this means nothing, until the individual makes the conscious decision to change their own behavior. Maybe the information might act as a catalyst, but rarely. Usually it takes a deeply personal experience – and then a shit-ton of hard work and perseverance – to make any lasting change. Those who are changed by the fitness and wellness industry, those who claim that so and so helped them lose weight, etc. etc. – they were already ready to change.
At one point in a panel discussion, a woman stood up. She cried, “I am a biblical person.” She went on to describe the story about how she gained weight, about how she was miserable, and then how she lost it – not because of the influx of education and information we have about the benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle, but because of her relationship with Jesus and her God.
I could feel the eye-rolls in the room without even looking around. The tension was thicker than butter. When she finished talking, there was clapping to celebrate her accomplishments (a 30+ pound weight loss) and an immediate change of subject.
We must get back to the science, was the overall response from the room.
But for me, this one woman’s story was the most important thing I heard at the conference today. Now I can’t speak for the Bible or for Jesus, but I know the source of all things, I know the Universe, I know the spirit, the current that touches every living thing on this earth. And I know that a healthy person is comprised of a healthy body, absolutely, but also a healthy mind and a healthy spirit.
Lissa Rankin is a physician who has figured out the connection of the spiritual realm and the physical. If you haven’t yet heard of her, I would encourage you to check her out; she is an MD who discovered that, more than medication, more than exercise, more than the strongest medications in the world, the best predictor of longevity, disease prevention, and recovery is your connection with the divine. Your spiritual compass. Your belief in something bigger than yourself, and the faith you place in that source.
This idea, this spiritual compass – this is the path I was made for.
A body is just a body. If your BMI is within range and you exercise the recommended amount and you eat a healthy diet, but you never stop to appreciate the green of the grass or the blowing of the wind; if you are healthy in body but experience depression, or body dysmorphia, or anxiety; if you check out as “well” with the physician but experience a nagging that there is some hole, some void, in your life that is fundamentally missing – you are not a healthy person. Health is through body, through mind, through spirit. To accomplish one, you must accomplish all.
This is how you get people to participate. It’s not through social media or flash mobs or bombarding people with information. It’s not the threats or the monetary incentives or the positive and negative reinforcements. When people find a connection with whatever deity they believe in, or even just an underlying current; when people step back to see the bigger picture, they will feel called to move. They will feel called to choose healthy choices. They will know, innately, what is healthy and what is not, and in choosing a life of gratitude, we will want to take care of these bodies that act as our spiritual hosts.
(Which is not to say that some health promotions do not invite the opportunity to change. They do. But the person must be ready to change, and for the change to be lasting, they need a source of strength, perseverance, and a meaning in life – a true sense of why this is important. Spirituality can help accomplish that meaning, and give the strength to start and perseverance to continue when it’s tough.)
That is my truth. That is my catalyst for change. That is my strength, my perseverance, my patience, and I am so much happier for it. We still can’t make anyone do anything that they are not ready to do, spiritual or not. I am finally at peace with that in my career. But, we can act as role models, as leaders, so that maybe any lost souls may be inspired or shown some light by our presence. And, hopefully, be a healthier and HAPPIER person as a result.