In general, when people use the term fitness, they are referring to a state of sound physical health. Physical health, in turn, is defined in terms of strength, endurance, and freedom from illness. In recent years, however, the concept of fitness has expanded. A concept of holistic fitness has emerged from the broader holistic perspective on health and healing.
The holistic perspective on health and healing is multidimensional. It assumes that the body, mind, and spirit are all connected in a way that is difficult to separate. Thus, poor health is not just a matter of injury or disease. When healing is needed, people who subscribe to this approach are open to a wide range of therapies. They may opt for a combination of conventional and non-conventional medical treatments. Or, they might consider an intervention that belongs to an altogether different healing tradition. The key requirement is an approach that takes into account the whole person. But, healing is not the only concern when it comes to the holistic perspective on health. Advocates of the holistic approach to health are concerned with enhancing personal health and preventing illness before it can take hold. These concerns have given rise to the concept of holistic fitness.
Holistic fitness implies optimal health within the person as a whole. To achieve optimal personal health, or holistic fitness, the person must address body, mind, and spirit. This is likely to require a combination of activities including regular physical exercise, healthy eating habits, positive social-emotional experiences, and attention to our spiritual needs. It can be said that, when we are fit in a holistic sense, our body, mind, and spirit are in tune with one another.
Achieving traditional physical fitness is an important part of the journey to holistic fitness. A large body of research shows that physical activity and exercise can have a profound influence on our overall health. There are many positive correlations between our level of activity and the health of both our body and our mind. For example, physical activity is correlated with a reduced probability of developing diabetes and certain forms of cancer. It seems to enhance cardio respiratory health. At the same time, it seems to reduce the risk of depression and cognitive decline.
While strength and conditioning exercises are important, other aspects of being cannot be ignored in the quest for optimal health. Advocates of a holistic fitness approach understand that the positive effects of physical exercise may be compromised by poor nutrition or the excessive use of alcohol and drugs. Developing healthy eating habits may require nutritional counseling. Reducing dependency on various mood enhancers generally requires psychological counseling and a kind of internal, spiritual change.
In addition, the positive effects of physical exercise tend to be greater, and better maintained, when the person’s social environment is supportive. A supportive social environment can act to encourage people to continue with a physical exercise program. A supportive social environment can help people reach healthy nutritional goals. That is why people in search of holistic fitness may need to evaluate their social environment and work to improve it. If they are lonely, they may need to join community and church groups. Such groups can be a great source of psychic rewards, as well as potential workout partners. If toxic friends are a problem, the amount of time spent with such friends may have to be reduced. The everyday environment found at home and at work must be taken into account, too. If it is severely stressful, meditation procedures may be needed to supplement the positive effects of exercise.
In a holistic sense, fitness cannot be achieved through a simple exercise program. Rather, it is achieved only when the body, mind, and spirit are optimized and brought into balance.