I spent this past Saturday laying laminate flooring in my son’s room. This is a picture of the finished project. A few years ago, I put down laminate wood flooring in the living areas in my home, so it wasn’t my first time working at this task. But this morning I woke up faintly sore, which got me started thinking about why I try to stay fit. After all, there are a lot of reasons we’re given for fitness being important, but abstract ideas don’t often mean a lot. Tackle a job that isn’t part of your everyday routine though, and it can bring those reasons home pretty darn fast.
Practical Fitness – Why It Matters
How do you define practical fitness? I define practical fitness as the ability to accomplish a wide variety of tasks without a significant risk of injury or pain. It sounds simple, but in the ever-expanding race toward specializing and outsourcing, it’s becoming more and more rare.
There was a time in U.S. history when most people did very physically demanding work. Go back 150-years, and our country’s economy was exclusively farm-based. Small communities provided for themselves. The population density was low, and cities were widely dispersed. With such a widely distributed population base, everyone was a “jacks of all trades.” Families had to be able to fell the logs to build their homes. They were farmers, hunters, tanners, gunsmiths, and metal workers. There were few other experts to call on.
As the economy migrated to a manufacturing base, people moved to cities for better paying jobs. This started the shift away from the need for individuals to be solely responsible for providing for themselves, and began a shift toward a specialized workforce. Government entities began offering public services, and so began the traditional 9-5 job. Originally, the manufacturing work was still extremely labor intensive, but as the cost of labor rose, the introduction of machines and automation began to supplant workers.
In today’s world, outsourcing of tasks is a favored approach to labor intensive jobs. We tell our kids to go to college to get better paying jobs. It’s a simple facts of life that many labor intensive jobs are outsourced. Yet the ever-present drive toward developing specialized skills results in a loss as well. The satisfaction of crafting a piece of furniture, laying flooring, or doing your own plumbing provides an intangible benefit. One can take pride in a job well done, and although it can’t be quantified, it is very, very real.
As I write this post, I’m a little sore. Like many people these days, I spend a large percentage of my day working indoors as a computer. But I still go out on my lunch break and run, swim, bike, or hit the gym. I don’t do it for the abstract benefit of “making myself healthier.” I do it because I want to maintain the mobility, strength, and capacity to provide for my family, and engage in the activities that make life worth living.