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One of the buzzwords thrown around a lot in different fitness communities is “functional fitness.” The basic idea is that you are building fitness that you can apply to real-life scenarios. Crossfit especially pushes this mantra, but I also hear triathletes and bootcamps use this verbiage as well.

When I talked to clients about their health goals and why they want to improve their nutrition, lose weight or get more fit, it too frequently comes back to functional fitness, but in much less jargon-y terms.

“I want to be able to walk upstairs without losing my breath.”

“I want to be able to get on the floor and play with my grandkids.”

“I want to run and not feel like a zombie the rest of the day because I’m exhausted.”

“I want to have more energy to play with my kids.”

Even though these are noble goals, many of us, especially newer parents feel guilty trying to carve out the personal time required to exercise, meal prep and even go to bed on time. It’s a daily struggle in the constant balance of needs and priorities to put ourselves first for just 30-90 minutes a day. Most days, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it, but I have pangs of guilt too when I tell my kids, “Sorry, I am going for a run. I’ll see you when I get home.”

This last week in Houston, Harvey’s aftermath revealed a new reason for functional fitness. In addition to the tireless, trained first responders, it was private citizens with their boats pulling allnighters to rescue stranded families. It was neighbors helping neighbors pull out water-logged carpet and demolish sheet rock. And it’s still neighbors helping neighbors while standing for hours sorting donating goods, moving people into and ultimately out of temporary housing and so many other tasks associated with rebuilding our city. It is hard, back-breaking work. It requires stamina and endurance. These aren’t just the people you just see on the news. These are all of my friends and their spouses. It’s people at church and in the PTA. Everyone is having to step up. Everyone wants to contribute their share.

If you think of fitness or self-care as an indulgence or a luxury, it’s not. You’re in training for life. Not just for your life, but to help the people around you in their time of need.

These days, we don’t forage for food or spend our days doing manual labor to keep us lean and in shape. Instead we have to guard against the excessive availability of junk food and the call of leisure activities that distract us from exercising, but it’s a worthwhile fight. Your life depends on it and your community is better served if you’re functionally fit.

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