INTRODUCTIONThis edition essay consists of a self-assessment designed to reflect your knowledge, satisfaction level and general experience of Athleticism, one of four REAL wellness dimensions.The self-assessment protocols are copyrighted; all rights are reserved. Visit donardell.com for licensing information regarding educational, corporate, non-profit or other uses of one or more of the four REAL wellness self-assessments, as well as a separate self-assessment for stress management.The purpose of all the self-assessments is to promote familiarity with and added commitment to REAL wellness mindsets and lifestyles. The overall goal is a philosophy guided by reason, inspired by exuberance, supported with athleticism and enriched by increased personal liberties.ATHLETICISMThe Athleticism dimension of REAL wellness is about exercise and nutrition. These two domains have been treated as separate professions until recently. Degrees and certifications, professional societies, conferences and scholarly journals were and largely remain devoted to exercise and to nutrition, but not both as a single, integral element of the same topic (i.e., Athleticism). As far back as the mid-seventies, I insisted the two were intertwined and logically inseparable and should be addressed together, understood as one discipline of two integrated parts. Playfully, I insisted exercise and nutrition were inextricably intertwinked. I made this case in High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease, initially published by Rodale Press in 1977 and later by Bantam Books and Ten Speed Press.For best results from exercise as well as from wise food choices, these two elements deserve equal attention. One contributes to the other; best results from exercise result from attention to complementary food patterns and vice-versa.Four centuries ago, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) identified three grand essentials to happiness: 1) something to do, 2) someone to love and 3) something to hope for. There are probably many more essentials for some people, but there is absolutely one more for everyone–good health. You can manage a bit of happiness when in pain and otherwise severely distracted from things to do, someone to love and something to hope for, but after a while dreadful health will get in the way. Chronic ill health, distractions from doing what you desire, love and hope, is almost guaranteed without adequate exercise and sound diet.Sufficient exercise and wise diet choices on a daily basis require mental toughness, a disciplined and unwavering commitment to regular body care involving both movement and nourishment. Only about ten percent of older adults (65 plus) in the Western world exercise at even minimal levels. While Americans spend a great deal more on fitness products and services than any other nation ($265 billion annually in 2018, according to the Global Wellness Institute), we rank 143rd globally for actual participation in physical activity.Those who exercise regularly and sufficiently enjoy less stress, fewer illnesses and better reflexes, memories, balance and metabolic profiles. How much better? So much so that on these health measures, fit elders test at levels decades better than their sedentary peers. (Source: Ross D. Pollock et. al., An Investigation Into the Relationship Between Age and Physiological Function in Highly Active Older Adults, The Journal of Physiology, January 2015.)To become and remain physically fit and to sustain yourself with foods that support good physical and mental health, knowledge and disciplined choices are required on a daily basis. The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) identifies poor nutrition and lack of physical activity as two of the four main risk factors causing preventable chronic diseases; the other two are tobacco use and excessive alcohol.Vigorous daily exercise and nutritious, delicious and only occasional pernicious treats (e.g., pies, cakes, donuts) are foundation requirements for wellbeing. The mental and physical acuity gained from mastery of the Athleticism dimension will enable and support rational decision-making, exuberance and freedom from avoidable dysfunctions that otherwise inhibit thriving and flourishing.SCORINGThe Athleticism self-assessment contains ten statements. Each statement is prefaced by a background commentary that provides a context for a fuller understanding of the statement to follow.Please choose a number from one to five that reflects the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement. If you strongly believe that your thinking or situation aligns with the statement, place the number 5 as your answer choice in the space provided. If you strongly disagree, enter the number 1. These are the two extreme positions.The middle number 3 represents a neutral position, indicating that you are not sure which side of the continuum your situation merits. The numbers 2 and 4 express modest alignment with one side or the other along the continuum.An interpretative commentary is provided based upon your cumulative score. In addition, a selection of ten Athleticism-focused books are included; five relate to exercise and five to nutrition.A NOTE FOR BEST RESULTSThis instrument is not intended as a competition, but rather for personal self-assessment. Be scrupulously frank with your self-assessments.The value of the assessment will be in the degree to which your score accurately represents your thinking and activity level in this dimension of REAL wellness. The cumulative score for the ten statements will determine the feedback. This should be helpful for making positive adjustments, if needed and desired.Enjoy the process.TEN STATEMENTSI. BackgroundIn 1912, the architect William Mitchell Kendall designed the General Post Office Building in Manhattan. Upon completion, Kendall had words inspired by the Greek scholar Herodotus (500 BC) inscribed on the grand entrance:
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Though never officially adopted by the U.S. Postal Service, this motto has been associated with U.S. mail couriers ever since, which might explain why some people get cranky when the mail carrier does not arrive as expected.Statement # 1My commitment to vigorous exercise is such that I almost never miss a daily workout, come tornado, flood, earthquake, tsunami or pandemic. Well, maybe in the event of a tornado, flood, earthquake or tsunami,but certainly not in case of a mere pandemic, or snow, rain, heat or gloom of night. _____II. BackgroundThe American people suffer from extraordinary levels of overweight and obesity, both considered preventable diseases. At least 52 percent of adults are in one of these two hazardous weight categories. Absent a strong conscious commitment to a lifestyle that includes dietary restraint and exercise sufficient in terms of duration, intensity and frequency, excess weight is inevitable.Statement # 2I exercise sufficiently in terms of duration, intensity and frequency and otherwise act so as to maintain the recommended standard of a BMI of 24 or less. _____III. BackgroundThere are unlimited excuses for not doing enough exercise, time pressures being at the top of most lists. Many people work multiple jobs and struggle to meet their basic needs. Exercise can seem like a luxury, an optional part of life. Even good reasons, however, do not affect the onset of adverse consequences of doing too little or no exercise at all.Statement # 3It’s not always easy, convenient or fun, but I do manage to meet or exceed the global standard of 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense physical activity. _____IV. BackgroundIn time, we all lose a bit of speed, our endurance diminishes and recovery from exertion takes longer. In addition, injuries seem more frequent and the healing process is slower than in earlier life. Core muscles, the movers and stabilizers that support the spine and transfer force through the body, need extra attention in middle and later years. Specific exercises can be done to improve core strength and prevent or reduce the incidence of back, hip, knee and neck pain.Statement # 4I incorporate core exercise in my exercise routines. _____V. BackgroundStretching, balance and strength training are critical elements of physical fitness. Strength training is vital but rarely practiced sufficiently, as it is hard work and not as enjoyable as common endurance activities. What’s more, it requires a gym membership for most people.Bodyweight machines, and especially free weights, reinvigorate your neurotransmitters and aid in coordination and balance, back alignment and preventing muscle deterioration over time. Alas, endurance exercise does not provide these benefits, so endurance training should be supplemented with strength training. Strength training adds to the staying power of muscles and builds the power needed to coordinate movements with grace, balance and efficiency.Statement # 5I nearly always manage to get in at least two 30 minute or more workouts per week on bodyweight machines and/or free weights–and I know enough about such strength training to maximize benefits from such exertions without inviting related injuries, such as muscle strains or worse. _____VI. BackgroundA sound diet, weighted in whole grains, fruits, legumes, vegetables and nuts will help you look your best and stay well. Most people follow a diet pattern more or less consistent with whatever was served on tables set by their parents and caregivers in their initial decades.Statement # 6I have learned from varied reliable sources and from trial and error over time to continually fine-tune my nutritional choices. My food selection and consumption patterns complement and contribute to my enjoyment of foods and positive health status. _____VII. BackgroundMost adults have tried a variety of diet patterns, often based upon anecdotal accounts of a miracle weight-loss plan, foods that boost human performance or wild claims of panacea-like benefits from following a best-seller diet book.There is no shortage of both genuine and bogus experts with meal plans, cookbooks, seminars and persuasive claims that scientific studies support their diet. It’s between hard to impossible to be certain that any given approach represents the one true, best food plan. Well-meaning friends and money-grubbing mountebanks galore are willing and anxious to offer their food plans that will cure whatever ails you, but all have at least one conflict of interest. That is, their interests (profit) and yours (good health) may not align.Statement # 7For information about nutrition, I explore a wide range of sources, including diet books, weight loss plans and maybe occasionally even celebrity doctors, but largely for entertainment, not facts. For the most up-to-date findings and nutritional recommendations, I primarily rely upon independent studies, government reports and reputable experts. _____VIII. BackgroundJunk food in America is cheap, omnipresent, overabundant and effectively promoted in massive marketing campaigns, most targeted to children. Tempting ads urge us to select and consume high fat sweets, which are ubiquitous and arrive under the radar of conscious choices, leading to passive over-consumption. Snacking almost anywhere is socially acceptable; vending machines and other sources of treats are omnipresent in school cafeterias, gas stations, worksites, shopping venues and so on. Other than at regular meal times, snack foods are ingested on four or five occasions daily. In the last decade, snacks and beverages accounted for twice the calories traced to increases in portion size of regular meals. (Source: Michael Greger, M.D., The Role of Personal Responsibility in the Obesity Epidemic, April 29th, 2020.)Statement # 8I’m well aware of the ubiquity of snack foods and their harmful effects if consumed other than occasionally. For that reason and possibly others, low nutrient junk foods are hardly ever among my food choices. _____IX. BackgroundMany people abstain completely or in good part from animal products. Reasons for doing so include the following:
They consider factory farming cruel and inhumane.
They know animal agriculture is environmentally destructive.
Health reasons–vegan/vegetarian diets are low in fat, calories and cholesterol and high in fiber and vitamins.
Ethical factors–while we are acclimated to animal slaughter, most people realize, when they reluctantly think of it, that factory-farmed, egg-laying chickens and dairy cows lead unnecessarily miserable and brief lives.
Animal agriculture consumes vast amounts of land and water to support livestock and grow feed which entails deforestation, soil degradation, a decline in biodiversity and irrigation usage amounting to eight percent of global human water use (Source: LEAD–Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.)
Statement # 9I’m aware of the above described facts and, to the extent that I can do so given my current circumstances, I restrict or eliminate animal protein in my daily diet. _____X. BackgroundThe majority of vegans get their required nutrients despite not consuming animal products, though many take vitamins B12 and D in supplement form. In addition, some experts recommend occasional blood testing to discover if supplemental iron, zinc, iodine, calcium or long-chain omega-3s are indicated. The mainstay vegan diets consist of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes–all of which are naturally low in fat and cholesterol but rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and vitamins C and E.The American Dietetic Association reports that vegetarians and vegans have lower body mass indexes, blood pressure and cholesterol levels than nonvegetarians. The ADA also reports that vegans have lower rates of type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, prostate cancer, hypertension and heart disease (Source: ADA.)(On a personal note, I might add that my own observations suggest that vegans have higher morale, superior bowel movements, whiter teeth, enviable sex lives and more antibodies to ward off pandemics. However, these claims are anecdotal, unsupported by double- blind randomized longitudinal research. I mention this here only to suggest, subliminally, that I’m a good person, more or less.)Statement # 10I’m either a vegetarian or vegan now or, there’s a good possibility I might become one, most of the time, someday. _____INTERPRETATION OF SCOREPlease add the total count for each of your responses to the ten statements. The range will be from ten to 50.The following commentary is impressionistic, subjective and approximate; it is not based upon robust randomized clinical trials, nor does the author proclaim nor imply magisterium via ex cathedra sources of inspiration or certainty. Rather, the interpretation will only approximate the extent of your familiarity with the nature of Athleticism and mastery of this REAL wellness dimension.And now, the interpretation of your Athleticism score.10 to 20At present, REAL wellness attitudes, behaviors, skills and priorities associated with Athleticism have not been well developed. However, the simple fact of exposure to the elements of Athleticism in this self-assessment might prove to be a fortuitous encounter that opens new possibilities for you.Your score is as low as it could be in both the exercise and nutrition categories. The good news is you can only move forward in positive directions; even moderate initiatives to exert more and dine better will result in meaningful gains. Here are a few simple suggestions:
Join a group — doing something new is easier and more enjoyable if it entails connections with others.
Make a plan–and write it out. Identify a goal, a timetable and someone or several who will work with you, offering mutual support and encouragement. Be specific and note obstacles you’ll have to overcome and payoffs you expect along the way to reaching the goal.
Choose a book to read, a program to follow and/or an app to use for the goal (s) you set.
Attend events that might add excitement and give you ideas about activities you might enjoy, such as a charity walk or run, or just watching people like yourself play games in local leagues. You may decide, I can do that, and add another outlet to your plan.
Watch Brian Wendel’s 2006 classic video Forks Over Knives to appreciate the case for eating less meat products.
Add extra steps and movements of varied kinds into everyday routines. Find a few steps to climb, stretch during TV commercials, get a dog that will insist you walk with it throughout the day and make a log of your daily movements. There are plenty of apps that will make doing this easy–and provide motivating in the process.
Keep plenty of fruits around the house, add them to meals and snack on them throughout the day.
Start each day with a healthy breakfast high in fibre and low in fat, sugar and salt.
You may have been discouraged about exercise by certain basic issues, such as what others might think, who to trust for sound advice, how to get started and/or similar hesitations about the choices for exercise and better diet patterns. There is no one, guaranteed way to optimal exercise or a one-true diet for all, given the extraordinary variety in a country with 330 million people. However, as suggested in the above listing, there are things you can do to make changes easier and boost chances you’ll stay with good intentions.21 to 30 You are quite aware of the importance of exercise and sound nutrition. You’re somewhere in the middle range of folks who ignore these two parts of Athleticism and those who go all out, that is, the superstars of fitness and healthy food practices. You might consider jump-starting new initiatives to boost your Athleticism by joining a gym, if not already a member of one.Gyms come in many forms and cater to different athletic interests, with price structures from bare bones to haute couture. Visit several close to your home or place of work before choosing one–there are dramatic differences.If you are old enough for Medicare (65), your insurer’s Advantage Plan probably offers free gym memberships, a splendid benefit not to be ignored if you want to make the most of your insurance plan–and who does not? A gym workout can and should include not just endurance exercise on varied cardio and strength machines, but also opportunities for assistance in improving balance, flexibility and core muscles. Besides personal training for a fee, gyms also offer free classes, which can be valuable additions to the work you do on your own.31 to 40 Well done — you are on the right track.Your score indicates that you have a solid knowledge base about exercise and nutrition and that you’re reasonably satisfied with your practices of both elements of Athleticism. By attending to just a few areas, you will advance into the highest lifestyle skill category in this REAL wellness dimension.Review your responses to each of the following questions on a summary check list. To pinpoint the few issues needing attention based upon your self-score, scan the following list and ask yourself: Would I benefit from:Greater focus on meal planning?Yes ___No ___Weight loss (or gain)?Yes ___No ___Blood work to see if I need a supplement?Yes ___No ___Strength training?Yes ___No ___More intense, interval style training?Yes ___No ___Longer or more frequent exercise?Yes ___No ___Fewer excuses?Yes ___No ___Attention to core muscles?Yes ___No ___Additional stretching/balance work?Yes ___No ___Work with free weights?Yes ___No ___Joining a gym–and visiting it regularly?Yes ___No ___Eating less meat and less snack foods?Yes ___No ___Taking health-oriented cooking classes?Yes ___No ___Consuming less alcohol or sugary drinks?Yes ___No ___Getting involved in environmental issues?Yes ___No ___As you move forward to the next and highest level of Athleticism, I wish you continued fulfillment and happiness. Congratulations.41 to 50Bravo. Whoop whoop. Well done. You are a maestro of movement and a judicious consumer who dines for wellbeing as well as taste. You successfully balance two separate but interconnected disciplines that enable best results in the Athleticism skill set of REAL wellness. You deserve kudos for living and modeling a passion for fitness supported by nutritious dining preferences.Your score suggests you’ve maintained a commitment to lifelong learning, critical factors in your exercise and dining habits. This hospitality and openness to trusted sources of information expands your capacity for new opportunities. You have positioned yourself to manage, if not foresee, the unexpected.Life is, without doubt, maddingly unfair. Those like yourself who rank at the high end of Athleticism remain vulnerable. Athleticism only takes you so far–the wellest of the well also experience life’s hard turns. Initiatives and commitments to wise habits are but stop gaps, not solutions. Let’s always be mindful of and grateful to those who contribute to our tenuous good fortune. Let’s do what little we can to lift others, those for whom habitual routines of healthy choices that we enjoy seem out of reach, unaffordable luxuries.The good doctor Anthony Fauci, keeper of reality checks at the White House during the COVID-19 pandemic, offered this advice to graduates of the Ohio State University in a commencement address in 2016:
Allow yourselves to cultivate the joyousness of life as much as you do your professional accomplishments. You have so many other things to live for and to be happy about.Reach for them and keep the sounds of your laughter alive.
You are fortunate to appreciate that Athleticism, vital as it is to a good life, is but one aspect of many that you have to live for and be happy about. All the rest that you do deserves to be approached in the same spirit–and made as much fun as you can introduce. Hopefully, you can even manage plateaus of laughter and joy on occasions, perhaps nearly every day. So, as Robert Green Ingersoll signed off in a letter dated February 23, 1893 to his dear friend B. N. Goodsell, Good luck and long life, and music enough to last you through.RECOMMENDED READINGSBaechle, Thomas R. and Westcott, Wayne L. Fitness Professional’s Guide to Strength Training. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 2010.Benardot, Dan. Advanced Sports Nutrition, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 2006Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic, Washington, D.C. 2015.Broussal-Derval, Aurelien and Ganneau, Stephane. The Modern Art and Science of Mobility. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 2019.Campbell, T. Colin and Campbell, Thomas. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health. Ben Bella Books, Dallas, TX. 2004.Cardwell, Glenn. Gold Medal Nutrition (5th Edition) Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 1996.Case, Chris and Mandrola, John and Zinn, Lennard. The Haywire Heart: How Too Much Exercise Can Kill You, and What You Can Do to Protect Your Heart. Velo Press, Boulder, CO, 2017.Clark, Nancy, Sports Nutrition Guidebook (6th Edition). Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 2013Crowley, Chris and Lodge, Henry S. Younger Next Year. Workman Publishing, New York. 2007.Esselstyn, Caldwell B. Prevent And Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. Penguin, New York. 2007.Esselstyn, Rip. The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan That Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds. Grand Central Life & Style, New York. 2009.Greger, Michael. How Not to Die. Flatiron Books, New York, 2015.Jonas, Steve. Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals. W. W. Norton & Co., New York. 2006.Weil, Andrew. Eight Weeks to Optimum Health (Revised Edition). Knopf, Borzoi Books, New York. 2006.