Over and over again in my coaching and teaching, I heard myself saying “XXX is an essential element to this process” or “essential to health is XXX” or “core elements of health and fitness are XXX” or some other variant. I started taking notes of all the references I made with those words in them and a clear pattern emerged. There are ingredients, parts, components, things, practices, exercises, activities 🡪 ELEMENTS that are important, critical, vital central, fundamental, foundational 🡪 ESSENTIAL for feeling healthy, fit and well. I had a noun and an adjective … and who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration for good measure? ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS emerged (coincidentally – or not- the alliteration matches one of my favorite set of training concepts: effectiveness and efficiency. Stay tuned, more on that to come!)
Like the wordy, nerdy person I am, I researched and studied the various definitions and usages of the words as part of my process. (fascinating, by the way!). There is one particular definition that stuck out:
ELEMENT (noun): a part or aspect of something abstract, especially one that is essential or characteristic1
Such a wonderful starting point for so many reasons:
- It provides a starting definition for element: a part or aspect of something (referring to something bigger than then each of the parts alone – love it! (e.g., we don’t just sleep to sleep… but as an element of something bigger!))
- The ‘something’ referenced is described as abstract: this appears appropriate when our “something bigger” is health, fitness and wellbeing. I argue that these concepts are bigger, deeper and so very contextual that our attempt to describe them with words is noble, useful and close … but not quite spot on. There is an abstract quality to the state of health, the state of fitness and the state of well-being that is very person, culture, time, geography (and more) dependent which is why our current definitions are simultaneously specific and quite vague.2 They are useful for us to get started with. We all “know” what health, fitness and wellbeing feel like when we’ve got it, so we can work with that for now.
- The ‘part or aspect’ has the quality of being essential or characteristic: there is an importance, priority or rank-order indicated. When there are limited resources, this becomes useful for decision-making and action-taking.
There is going to be a lot of defining (and redefining), continuous learning (and relearning), and ongoing operationalizing (and re-operationalizing) of terms and concepts along the way – and I love that! Remember one thing through all of this: we are dynamic in what we know and experience and how we know and experience… NOT static. We’ll have to adjust words, actions, behaviors, ideas and the whole lot of it as we go. But for now, we need something to take action on – let’s start with:
To what bigger WHOLE do these elements belong?
HEALTH, FITNESS AND WELL-BEING
But what part of health, fitness and well-being, you might ask? Does it really matter? Yes and no. It is an appropriately abstract and slightly ambiguous concept at this point in time, but understood none the less. Once we describe the elements, I think this takes care of itself – all parts are relevant to every dimension of the whole. Let’s parse this out another day – let’s get to the doing, not the debating.
What are the ELEMENTS we are talking about?
MOVEMENT, FOOD, SLEEP, RESILIENCE (as nouns, or outcomes) – I’ll also say MOVING, EATING, SLEEPING, RESTORING (as verbs, because we need actions to get to outcomes).
- Movement – more specifically meaningful movement and physical activity (which is movement with any goal or objective in mind). What have you done so far today that did NOT include movement? Movement is absolutely necessary for human existence. We need to move to survive and we can use it on purpose to thrive.
- Food – really what is more essential to us than what we eat? We are literally made from the same elements as our food (e.g., water, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, etc.) AND we have the amazing capacity to turn chemical energy (food) into mechanical energy (movement – see above). What?!? Yes, we are that cool. Food is absolutely necessary for human existence. We need fuel to survive and we can use it on purpose to thrive.
- Resilience – this is our ability to bounce back, adjust, adapt, flex and flow, bob and weave. We can and should train ourselves to increase our bandwidth for what are capable of – to be able to ramp up (speed up! Power up!) when we need and want to AND be able to tamp down (slow down, power down) when we need and want to. Restore and recover practices help most of us find better balance right now. We need resilience to survive and we can use it on purpose to thrive.
- Sleep – though we don’t know what we’re doing when we do it, there is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than sleep. Recent decades of research into sleep are helping us understand that the notion of sleep as “doing nothing” and “resting” could not be further from the truth. We are metabolically active, mentally and emotionally active and continue to sort out so many things in our bodies and minds when we are asleep – we just take a temporary break from being momentarily aware of it, perhaps. We need sleep to survive and we can use it on purpose to thrive.
These are the elements I attend to every day for myself to feel healthy, fit and well (no, it’s not luck!). These are the elements I dedicate probably too much time and energy to studying as a scholar of health, fitness and wellbeing (yes, this goes beyond “lip-service”). These are the elements that form the foundation of my professional practice with clients and students that centers around creating for oneself a state of health, fitness and well-being.
These are core components for feeling healthy, fit and well wherever we might be right now and whatever dimension of wellness might be most salient in our field of awareness at the moment. If we are focusing physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, spiritually – every dimension of whole-person health and wellness benefits from effective and efficient attention to these elements. There’s more to unpack here too, but let’s not confuse talking about the elements with engaging them … we’ve got enough here to get the gist.
What does ESSENTIAL actually mean?
ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, extremely important, indispensable; natural, spontaneous, being its very nature or in its highest sense1.
I am just going to let that list of definitions and synonyms do the talking for now. Spend some time with the concept of essential.
Wait, what? Who is this person writing the very end of this post … and what have you done with Laura? That’s all you are going to say about that last point? Yes, we’ve got much more time together, and you know I like to balance talk with walk (pun intended!). So, let’s go do something – let’s go move, eat, sleep and slow down with great effectiveness and efficiency for the benefit of ourselves and everyone and everything around us.
Yours in health,
- Lexico.com (2020). A collaboration between Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press (OUP) to help users worldwide with everyday language challenges. Accessed May 15, 2020 at https://www.lexico.com/en/definitions/element
- Just some of the definitions of the term health. There is overlap in ideas and they are useful. There are many more. Additional time can and will be dedicated to disentangling these in the future, if we choose.
World Health Organization Constitution. Accessed 5/15/2020 at https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/constitution
Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Accessed 5/15/2020 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/health
Sartorious (2006) The meanings of health and its promotion. Croat Med J, Aug 47(4). Accessed 5/15/2020 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2080455/