Vitality versus Fitness

by Dr Danielle Pirera, Exercise Physiologist, Goonellabah, Australia

Why do healthy people who are extremely or moderately fit, who eat a well balanced healthy diet of protein, carbohydrates and fat, who go to bed early and sleep 8 hours per night, still get very tired or even exhausted by an average work day behind the desk, or need caffeine and sugar to get them through the full day?

In my early 20s I was super fit (able to run 21km, or in scientific terms, a peak oxygen consumption of 70 ml/kg/min, which is equivalent to a male competitive cyclist), but still I got tired by an average work or university day: I not only ate, but craved sugar in the form of high carbohydrate foods, chocolate, lollies and ice cream.

Generally, if someone is unfit, not eating well, over-weight, going to bed late and feeling a level of fatigue or tiredness throughout their day, their doctor or health practitioner would say that they need to eat healthy, lose weight, go to bed early, and do some regular exercise to increase their endurance. Practically and scientifically this makes sense: the cardiovascular and muscular system is not strong enough, or is under strain, or does not have the nutrients it needs, or the physical body is not having enough rest to easily get through the physical demands of the day.  From my experience working in this industry, I have seen that being fit, healthy and eating and sleeping well is not the answer to having good energy levels.

Through the work I have done with Universal Medicine I have come to realise that there is a significant difference between being fit and being vital. Vital is being energetic, awake and lively throughout my day without the need for sugar or caffeine or other stimulants to get me through the work day. Being fit is being able to walk for an hour comfortably, or walk stairs or hills with minimal effort, or swim a few laps at the pool without getting out of breath, or doing 15-30 minutes of light weight-lifting without reaching fatigue. But being fit does not mean being able to get through a work day without being tired, or waking up not tired – this is being vital.

For me, being vital requires a different type of training. It’s not the time or consistency spent walking or doing strength exercises. It’s more to do with how I am with myself in everything that I do. Not only my diet, sleep and rest, but the way I prepare for work, how I shower and dress myself, how I move about the house, drive to work, how I am at work, how I speak with others, how my lunch break is, how I arrive home from work, how I prepare myself for my evening, how I am with my evening, how I am when I eat, how I interact with my husband and family and how I lay myself down for bed in the evening.

If I do all of these things in a frantic, fast-paced or unfocussed way then I feel drained. It’s like there’s a part of my petrol tank leaking, so not only am I using petrol to do what I need to do, but I’m dumping petrol at the same time.

Fine-tuning how I do things to not drain my energy levels has been a process of breaking old ways of being; not only to not rush around, but also considering how I am holding myself and how I am moving with myself. Is it in a fast paced, empty way, or at a natural pace where I feel every movement and move gently and lovingly? It’s also about considering what I’m thinking about whilst I am doing anything; when I’m in the shower, washing the dishes, talking with a person at work, writing a report or doing exercises. Am I thinking exactly about what I’m doing?…. Or am I thinking about something completely different? And it’s about considering the purpose behind everything; why I am doing or saying things – is it because I think I have to, to please another person, to get recognition, to look good, because that’s what my mother did, because that’s what the magazines, TV, teachers or my friends do?

I’ve discovered that if I move in a very gentle and precious way with myself in all that I do, if I stay focussed and thinking about what I’m doing and if I only truly do what I feel to do for me because it feels right, then I don’t get drained throughout my day. When I lay myself down to sleep I am not tired, but already rested and ready to enjoy more rest, not needing it. I then wake up the following day in the same fashion that I finished it, rested and energised. Over a number of days this builds, then over weeks and months it builds to a level where I feel much more rested, more energetic and less chaotic or tired during my day.

This is definitely a work in process as I begin to realise that what felt rested a few years or even a few months ago feels tired or chaotic now. Sometimes I fall back into old ways of being, but eventually my eyes and my body ache and I recognise that my vitality is low and I need to re-consider how I am living – not whether I need to go to the gym and get fit to have energy.

287 thoughts on “Vitality versus Fitness

  1. I noticed for myself that how less I absorb all peoples moods, how more I stay observing people for what they bring instead of reacting on what is coming my way I feel much more clear and vital. It is exhausting to be not present in my body and because not being there letting in energies that make me tired.

  2. To me, vitality is about having a relationship with the body by listening and honouring the communication. Fitness is important, but if it is done at the expense of the body and it’s vitality, then it is harming.

  3. Most of us rush through our day and get to the end of it exhausted, breaking this way of living can be confronting but is so well worth the effort to stop and reconsider is there another way to live. And there is, to live in the moment of everything you do is so exquisite, it’s the most divine feeling to experience and what’s more it’s free. You don’t have to participate in any extreme sport, or drugs to get a high, there is a way to live that naturally gives us a natural constant high. And I’m so glad that I made the effort to re connect back to my body where this amazingness has been waiting for me all this time. Huge thanks to Universal Medicine for all the support you have given to me and everyone.

  4. If extremely fit people like yourself Danielle can’t function optimally all day just on a normal working day without getting tired, it must say something about how much they are pushing themselves to actually do the exercise. I cannot but help wonder what is the long term impact and expense to their bodies because of this disparity.

  5. True vitality is there when we live lovingly with our bodies each day, being present with everything we are doing bringing tender care with our movements. When I rush I get exhausted, when I check out I lose connection with my body and its wisdom.

  6. I like how you talk about fine tuning the way you do things. I have recently been looking at adjusting the time I get home from work so that I’m not rushing to do the dinner and then not staying up later than my body wants to. That means adjusting my days at work and leaving slightly earlier. Everything affects everything else.

  7. Such an important distinction to make. I know the importance of being physically fit, yet once you have felt a vital body, fit pales! The level of vitality felt in the body is the marker not the level of fitness as fitness can mask behaviours that dull vitality.

  8. ‘Sometimes I fall back into old ways of being, but eventually my eyes and my body ache and I recognise that my vitality is low and I need to re-consider how I am living – not whether I need to go to the gym and get fit to have energy.’ An awesome observation. It is the quality in which we do everything that matters. A recognition of feeling a bit low and then expecting a burst of energy at the gym to fix it is putting us into a cycle of illusion and a need for substances to pep us up or even cigarettes or alcohol to fill the gap. Whatever it is we are putting a strain on our body and quite often the parts we can’t see, like our liver or pancreas or other organs, become overburdened and we begin to show signs of unease and possibly later disease. We try and cover up the unease with entertainment or hobbies or sometimes superficial conversation but it is still there until we choose to see what we are doing and make a choice to change and truly look after ourselves.

  9. A very interesting topic that should be discussed on medical level too. Vital versus fitness…
    I for example love to swim which I do twice a week in the early morning. I feel it builds also my condition. But when I am at work or at home and don’t give attention to the quality in which I do all my movements (walking, talking, sitting, working behind computer etc) I can get very tired. Before I was using coffee to live in a not loving quality but kept going with the caffeine. Now I just listen to those signals and make different choices on the moment I become aware that for example I go in a rush or stress during my day.

  10. A great exposure of the difference between fitness and vitality. I agree wholeheartedly Danielle, staying in a quality of nurturing and conscious presence changes everything in the exhaustion being far less and even obsolete – leaving us feeling vital and alive in another way.
    “I’ve discovered that if I move in a very gentle and precious way with myself in all that I do, if I stay focussed and thinking about what I’m doing and if I only truly do what I feel to do for me because it feels right, then I don’t get drained throughout my day”.

  11. Fitness has always been the goal yet it is so true, fitness is not discerning about the level of vitality we wake with every morning and that being a marker of how we are in everything we do. It is another level to take ourselves back to, unfeeling the go go go, to discover how we do what we do has equal, if not more lasting value.

  12. I often wondered why super fit athletes get sick and have so many injuries. They are fit, not vital. They train hard for events but what force do they use to ‘get through’? It would seem consistency and loving care for our bodies is key – not pushing our beautiful bodies to extremes. Having vitality (energy) is important and being fit is a bonus on top.

  13. I enjoyed reading about the difference between being fit and being vital. Looking back on my life I can see there were periods where I was very fit but far from vital. When I come home from a day’s work feeling absolutely smashed, I have frequently wondered why, when on another similar day I come home feeling full of energy. There are many tips in your blog that I will be trying.

  14. Feeling vital has a lot to do with how committed I am to life – or not. And a lot of energy that could be available to feeling vital is wasted when we don’t accept people and situations but go into protection to defend and shore up our old hurts.

  15. Great opening points you make Danielle, which shows that there is something else going on with us if we are ticking all superficial boxes and still getting exhausted. This is the wisdom of our bodies communicating with us a loving message we would be well advised to listen to and not try and override with stimulants that further exhaust and bludgeon our bodies.

  16. I wonder if a mixture of vitality and fitness is a great marriage for our body, a commitment both to our physical needs, how strong we need to be, and preparing our bodies for everything it needs to do combined with a deep care and an emphasis on quality first.

  17. I find it is a constant conversation. Today I can feel I am tired, I ate food yesterday that has had a clear effect on my body and my body is not happy. So today, a deeper focus on what led me to eat the food I ate when I knew my body has told me on numerous occasions it does not sit well, will be called for! Being dedicated to having that conversation and not glancing over it will offer an opportunity for more awareness and then more conscious choices.

  18. Our level of health is today the way it is because we have based ‘health’ on something that is well below what is truly possible and normal.

  19. It is fascinating that being fit and healthy, and eating and sleeping well is not the answer to good energy levels when the industry sells this as a truth… we are not taught that vitality is something entirely different and requires a different form of training or refinement of the quality in which we move through life. I love that with a consistent commitment to listening to our bodies and honouring how we use our energy, the chaotic- ness can be reduced and a solidness and steadiness in life truly embraced.

  20. We are sold that having a healthy lifestyle is the way to avoid being sick and unwell. Google healthy lifestyle and what will come up is diet and exercise. But there is more to who we are than simply what we eat and whether we exercise. Discussing whether we live vitally is something that is a rare discussion and frankly is seen as something that is reserved for children that just goes as mid to late adulthood. But why? Why should we lose that feeling of vitality? Life happens, a lot would say. But that raises the question of how are we in life – beginning with how are we with ourselves? Have we connected to our inner most and learned to live our whole life from there? Then we would see that how we are in everything matters, more than diet and exercise and that we can live vitally everyday up to our older ages.

  21. Thank you Danielle for what you share here as it is so significant in living a truly fulfilling, healthy and rewarding life.

  22. The difference between being fit and being vital – this is one of the things that makes me go ‘why didn’t I ever think about that before?!’ Totally brilliant, Daniella. And I agree – being anxious and racy, putting the mind and the body at different places at the same time is very exhausting. Being busy but being with myself throughout is something I am having to learn at the moment.

  23. Vitality is a great measure for how are we living life. There are plenty of people who claim to live ‘healthy’ lives (in its different versions, vegetarian, eat organic, not refined grains, flours, etc) but who are devitalized. In fact, their diets help them mainly cope with such fact. It is about keep going as much as they can.

  24. We have an opportunity to live differently – from a point of vitality first. To be conscious of every move we make. Thank you for explaining what you went through. And how you once were under the illusion of being fit but in fact this was very far from vital.

  25. You bring us some very good points here Danielle: the fact that we can have our mind somewhere else while we are doing something which obviously compromises the body and has it working more than it needs to, to be motivated by a sense of purpose which allows for a focus and again leaves the body less scattered and having to deal with our uncertainty and/or loose ends. Bringing awareness to how we are during a day is so revealing and supportive in discovering how we might be compromising ourselves and thus losing vital energy. Being awake to how we are living has such ginormous benefits if we are willing to be honest and make the changes towards your definition of vital, which in my book really is the great life changer ‘Vital is being energetic, awake and lively throughout my day without the need for sugar or caffeine or other stimulants to get me through the work day.’

  26. Vitality is a word that is seemingly misused in the world. Vitality is an inner quality of inspiration, engagement with life, internal energy to do that which is needed. Vitality requires a loved and cared for body. Vitality is not as you say the ability to lift weights or run a marathon, but an inner expansion that is something sorely missing in the world.

  27. “there is a significant difference between being fit and being vital.” So often ‘being fit’ is equated with pushing the body to be able to out-perform others where vitality is an inner sense that is felt throughout the body of being truly alive.

  28. I’m currently experimenting with the different ways that drain my energy supplies. One in particular being the screen time before bed, in bed. Staring at an ipad or laptop for a couple of hours before going to sleep has a huge impact on my nervous system, and it’s not until the morning that I realise how much it drains me. And there are lots of other little things during the day that zap me of my vitality like taking on other peoples emotional stuff. It’s great to be aware of these things and bit by bit, start to change the way we respond.

  29. Such a great blog you have written here Danielle that really shows how it is not what we do or the amount we do in our day or in our fitness regime it is the quality we choose to do it in which counts. It is the quality of energy we are choosing to fill our bodies with as we do every activity. This choice of energy can either revitalise us or drain us. It is very simple and no amount of fitness work will be able to over-ride this energetic universal law.

  30. We also see even that people who do a lot of sport, health training, diets etc not just get exhausted in their daily job but also are surprised that they get ill, for example develop cancer. Like why me? I live so healthily. The thing is that we can not avoid the fact life as a human being is first about energy as that is who we are big energetic beings in a physical form. And it is all about the energy we choose.

  31. It is a necessity to define the difference between vitality and being fit and how energy is used. Thank you Dr Danielle Pirera for this great example – “if I stay focussed and thinking about what I’m doing and if I only truly do what I feel to do for me because it feels right, then I don’t get drained throughout my day.”

  32. If caffeine was banned for a month, I wonder if that would allow the space to feel just how tired and exhausted people feel. With caffeine being heralded so much as a kick start to the day, it masks the exhaustion or lack of vitality in a way that we can pretend it isn’t there.

  33. I’ve been pondering this a lot. I often chat with people about exhaustion and tiredness and it seems like it’s something almost everyone identifies with. Most people readily admit they need sugar or caffeine to get through the day. I have spent most of my life feeling like tiredness was ‘normal’ but I’m starting to see that it is not.

  34. I reckon the most exhausting things are not so much related to what we do but the energy we do it in and the thoughts we have. Clearly it takes a lot of energy to be angry, sad, critical, reactive and create all sorts of issues and complications etc. It is very nourishing and recharging to keep things simple, joyful and be genuinely appreciative.

  35. It is also exhausting to always be looking outside and wanting approval and recognition from others. Equally to take on other people’s emotions and issues can cause us to bloat and wear us down regardless of how much exercise etc we do.

  36. What strikes me here is how we’ve put so much emphasis on fit and healthy being the exercise we do and the diet we are on. It takes us so far away from being vital – which comes across as more of a lifestyle than a routine. It shows how much we have changed words from their original meaning.

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