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Living with Purpose

Posted by Barbara DuBois | Jun 23, 2023 4:21:02 PM

The components of good health are myriad. One can think of them as a mosaic or a quilt, or maybe a work of Picasso or Monet, multiple colors, varying segments, merging, and blending into one wholistic, interacting, non-separable entity. You know the ingredients or patches and patterns well as you have heard them all so often: a good night’s sleep, movement, stretching, strength training, a nutrient-rich diet of water-based foods rich in roughage, antioxidants, and all manner of numerous undetected healthful components.

Yet there is one other key trait that is seldom mentioned in this menage. And that is a strong sense of purpose. I like to refer to this aspect of health as the itch to get out there and get it done, the syndrome of needing to be busy and get to work, to do something, to make something happen. People to see, places to go, things to do. There’s a long list of things to accomplish and as soon as one list is completed, another one rapidly emerges. My German grandmother would say this is Unternehmungsgeist: the spirit of industry.

I recently bore full witness to this. In the Alaska Run for Women 2023, nearly 600 women ran the timed race, and an estimated equal amount did the 1 mile walk and the 5-mile walk. Do you think these were all just teenagers and twenty-something-year-olds? Think again! Of the timed runners, 14 were in the age category of 75 to 79, 9 were in the 80 to 84 age bracket and 2 were in the 85 to 89 age group! None of these ladies would have succumbed to a life of vacant staring into space while sitting in a wheelchair. They had a race to run, a cause to support and a purpose to fulfill! The cause was raising money for breast cancer research and whether these women were survivors or patients, they were going to beat the trail as hard they could with a common goal. Driving them on was the goal of eradicating a disease that assails one in eight women.

Determination and tenacity can be seen everywhere. The vivacious and spry 102-year-old Jean Bailey of Elk Ridge Senior Living in Omaha, Nebraska has a mission to accomplish. Four times a week she teaches an exercise class to about a dozen women and has been doing this for three years. She started teaching the class at a relatively youthful age of 99 and has no intention of quitting anytime soon. “When I get old, I’ll quit,” Bailey quipped. “I really feel that if you don’t keep your mind and body busy, then why are you here?” She queried. No slouch in exercise herself, Bailey is a strict and demanding instructor, insisting that her charges work harder, raise their arms higher, move faster, work those muscles! The whole body needs to be worked up. “You move every part of your body, absolutely, from your hands to your toes.”

Famed mountaineer and anesthesiologist Thomas F. Hornbein made history by doing a pioneering climb up Mt. Everest up the till-then-untraveled West Ridge, even spending the night at 28,000 feet minus the comfort (and necessity) of a sleeping bag! He climbed mountains well into his mid-80s before succumbing to leukemia at 92. The world’s one-time oldest mountaineer, at age 95, Ulrich Inderbinen, led climbing enthusiasts up Switzerland’s famed Matterhorn. Inderbinen left the world at age 103, a hero to Switzerland who honored him by lowering the Swiss flag for five days.

You may not have a desire to climb mountains at 95 or even 85, but a strong sense of purpose can be an immensely motivating factor in improving your health habits. David Geurin’s observation in his blog on the “Seven Characteristics of People with a Strong Sense of Purpose” is that people with an inherent sense of purpose are willing to take more risks. This does not necessarily mean that you need to

become, for example, an Olympic diver to overcome your fear of heights such as did silver and bronze medalist Patty Olsener Holmer (1948). Likewise, Olympic diver David Boudia who was plagued with acrophobia, refused to kowtow to his fears as he won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics despite his fears. Purposeful people are willing to look past their fears and try new things. They “have more energy and emotion about what they’re doing.” They block out the naysayers and the critics and persist. That is simply the best way to build any new habit: keep doing it!

Some health habits are harder than others to cultivate. Some are downright inconvenient and annoying. Try, try again. Failure happens. Injuries occur. Opponents win. Drive and ambition will not be deterred. You have something to do, somewhere to go, people to see. When The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy fell asleep while crossing a meadow of poppies poisoned by the Wicked Witch of the West, she was nearly at the gates of the Emerald City. Dorothy seemed to fall short of finally reaching her goal. “Don’t quit now,” said the Strawman, “You’re almost there!” And Dorothy finally reached her home in Kansas after all, but not before helping her Cowardly Lion realize his bravery, the Strawman grasp his mental acuity and the Tinman’s heart experience love. She had the capacity to reach her home all along, said Glinda, she just didn’t realize it.

Your health is worth all the energy you can muster to improve it. This is your purpose. Everything you need to fulfill this task you already possess. Train for your next adventure at The Alaska Club gym locations or in our women's only gym in Anchorage. 

Written by Barbara DuBois

MA Health Ed. & Int'l Journalism; PhD Sports & Health History; Texas Tech Univ. & Wayland Baptist Univ. instructor; Health Ed. Program Manager Maniilaq Assoc.

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