Fitness Is the New Philosophy

How physical activity unlocks mindfulness

Scott Mayer
Dec 1, 2020 · 5 min read
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Credit: Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

I see an old man with curly white hair and a scruffy beard.

He’s dressed casually, sitting comfortably, head resting in the palm of his hand. He’s lost in thought, eyes squinting straight ahead. His face is a myriad of lines and wrinkles, etched deep from years of quiet contemplation.

If you had asked me previously what a philosopher looked like, this would’ve been my answer.

Today I see a different man.

He’s dressed casually, but not sitting comfortably. Think athletic shoes, mesh shorts and a polyester t-shirt. Maybe a hat. Definitely earbuds. He’s lost in the moment rather than in thought, eyes staring straight ahead. His face is a series of faces, rising and falling with every breath he takes.

He’s out for a run. Or at the gym. Or doing pushups in his living room.

Dictionary.com defines philosophy as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence”.

If you practice fitness regularly, you practice philosophy.

Here’s why.

The fundamental nature of knowledge

I’m a rather curious person. I’m always asking questions about the underlying essence of things. I was that kid who had to touch everything. It wasn’t enough to see or smell or hear something. I had to get my greasy paws on it.

I take my curiosity with me every time I train.

When I run my local trails I stop once or twice to pick up a rock, examine a fallen tree or literally smell the roses. When I’m at the gym I look for at least one new exercise. Something they’ve just added or something I haven’t tried before. When I’m out riding my bike I push a little longer than last time, to see just a bit further than I could before.

I’m constantly reviewing new workout techniques and training protocols. How can high intensity interval training take my running to the next level? How can German volume training increase my barbell squat? How can cold therapy expedite recovery?

It is this pursuit of knowledge that inexorably links me to the philosophers of old. I’m interested in discovering something new every time I train, either about fitness or about myself. “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” says Aristotle.

I find gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake a very productive use of time. I am a firm believer in learning as much as possible. The more you know, the more you understand, the more you have at your disposal. Whether it’s fitness or finance or freestyle. Knowledge truly is power.

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” — Socrates

The fundamental nature of reality

In a philosophical context, reality describes “something that exists independently of our ideas concerning it.” The sun is a piping hot ball of mostly hydrogen gas 93 million miles from Earth, regardless of its unique ability to generate warmth, light and consequently life.

While training, I find myself more able to consider the objective nature of our reality. I can look at the world around me without prejudice or pretense. My eyes are open to how things really are, not how I wish them to be. This perspective ultimately leads to progress.

  • If I skip training sessions I won’t make improvements. That’s the reality. So I don’t skip training sessions.
  • If I don’t eat well I won’t be healthy. That’s the reality. So I make a conscious effort to eat well.
  • If I don’t get enough sleep I won’t recover effectively. That’s the reality. So I make a conscious effort to get enough sleep.

Reality is fair. Our individual circumstances may differ, but reality is the same for everyone. We have no choice but to abide by its rules. No amount of hemming or hawing or complaining will make reality any less real. I’ll never run as fast as Usain Bolt. That’s the reality. But I can run as fast as I’m capable of if I put in the work.

It’s no one else’s fault but mine if I don’t achieve my goal. It’s no one else’s fault but mine if I fail. But, it’s no one else’s achievement but mine if I succeed.

We owe it to ourselves to accept the reality around us and work with what we’ve got.

“When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently.” — Plato

The fundamental nature of existence

Existence is not simply the idea I physically exist here and now. Existence tackles the concept of our subjective being. Existence explores how and why I choose to do what I do, feel the way I feel and act the way I act. Existence asks the profound questions.

Why am I here? What is my purpose? What makes me happy?

Physical activity allows me to be completely present, freeing my mind to wander as it pleases. The shackles are off. I let go of the fears and stresses and worries of everyday life. And sometimes, I discover something meaningful.

I went for a run last Friday, later than I normally go.

The dimming sun was peaking through the trees. The temperature was dropping, I could see my breath with every exhale. The trail felt soft yet springy from the early morning rain.

As the mileage climbed, my body became warmer and warmer until I was seemingly floating over the terrain. I had found the groove, that special place at the intersection of effortlessness and movement.

That special place every runner seeks but doesn’t always find.

About halfway through something amazing happened. I entered my favorite section of the woods. My music hit its apex. The sun came through just right, reflecting off the moisture still clinging to the barren trees.

I had to stop. I had to reflect. I had to make sure this fleeting moment became an eternal memory.

After a brief pause I started up again, a subtle smile on my face. I’m not sure the tears in my eyes were from the biting wind or the moment I just experienced. Either way, I didn’t wipe them away.

Experiencing moments like these is why I exist. And for me, these moments are facilitated through fitness.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” — Aristotle

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Scott Mayer

Written by

Runner, thinker, curious observer. Owner of In Fitness And In Health. https://www.scottjmayer.com/

In Fitness And In Health

A fast-growing health and fitness community dedicated to sharing knowledge, lessons, and suggestions to living happier, healthier lives.

Scott Mayer

Written by

Runner, thinker, curious observer. Owner of In Fitness And In Health. https://www.scottjmayer.com/

In Fitness And In Health

A fast-growing health and fitness community dedicated to sharing knowledge, lessons, and suggestions to living happier, healthier lives.

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