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.

302 thoughts on “Vitality versus Fitness

  1. This is a great point to highlight Danielle, I don’t believe there are too many vital people in the world because of the copious amounts of coffee people intake everyday. I remember the time when I considered myself very fit as I was doing a lot of running training for half-marathons, but was I vital? Absolutely not, as I continually got sick and would not have steady energy levels throughout the day.

  2. I remember once watching an extremely muscled up footballer, who was obviously extremely fit in the accepted sense of the word, get exhausted after doing 15 minutes of gentle movement… Vitality is indeed the essence.

  3. A very pertinently timed blog. I can feel the momentum of patterns of behaviour that lead to this belief that we need to push ourselves beyond our body’s capabilities and there is nothing wrong with feeding ourselves toxic substances in order to keep the pace we think we need to live. Yet it is quite a rollercoaster way of living, up down up down crash, up down up down crash. Worth considering the alternative you have proposed.

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