Strength in Numbers

THE ROLE OF THE COMMUNITY IN FITNESS

BY JAD GRIFFIN

Healthy dietary choices + Regular exercise = Overall health.  Right?

But can your community affect your health?

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell describes how a physician by the name of Stewart Wolf stumbled onto an odd discovery in the small town of Roseto, Pennsylvania. During the 1950’s, while heart disease and heart attacks were becoming increasingly prevalent across much of the country, the people of Roesto had very few cases of heart disease or health troubles.

As Wolf began to take a closer look at the numbers, he uncovered some very peculiar statistics: there was a vastly reduced number of heart attacks in the town, and almost no heart attacks for anyone under the age of fifty.  There were extremely low incidents of suicide, drug addiction, and virtually no crime. On the hunch that it was possibly an environmental factor influencing the numbers, Wolf compared Roseto to neighboring towns; each of the closest towns appeared to be suffering from the same health problems that the rest of the country was experiencing. Upon examining their diets and lifestyles, Wolf found that the residents of Roseto had poor diets, smoked and drank excessively, and rarely ever did anything resembling exercise. And yet, their rate of heart disease was vastly lower than neighboring towns.

What was different about Roseto?  Community.

Wolf found that the Rosetans were healthy because of the environment they had developed within their tight-knit community. They had created a very low stress environment, where people spent time speaking and listening to one another, where they valued family and friends, and where elders were revered and respected. They were active in their community and churches, and the people of the town had a mutual love for all of its citizens.  Roseto had transcended much of American culture and the health benefits were astounding. As it turns out, being part of a community where we value and respect one another is extremely beneficial to our own health and happiness.

LOST IN THE DESERT OF FITNESS

I use to have this conception that the right diet plus enough exercise would equate to my general good health and well being.  I felt I need to get in at least 4-5 workout sessions a week, while also staying as vigilant as I can with what I put in my body.  Those are really the only two factors I thought of when I think about staying healthy and maintaining a reasonable body weight. 

I tried being a distance runner. Like many people, I saw running as a way to get fit and lose weight.  Just run a bunch of miles. Day after day. It was monotonous, and before long I hated it.

I gave Insanity and P90X a shot, and, while they are great programs, I was doing them at home… and it was too easy to put it off and sit on the couch.

I had a“meathead” phase- lifting heavy, focusing on the beach muscle, managing to get my bench press up to 385 pounds.  I was happy with the way my arms and chest looked, but I just never felt fit.

The closest I came to being satisfied with my workout method was full-body workouts at the local conventional gym. I felt good because I was still lifting weights while getting a modicum of a cardio workout along with it.

Each of these methods had led to varying degrees of health and satisfaction with the way my body felt and looked. But none ever felt “complete.”

Then, one day, as I was talking to my brother- who had experience a similar lost-in-the-desert fitness journey- he mentioned CrossFit, and a guy named Rich Froning. My brother claimed that Rich was absolutely ripped, the epitome of “fit”- six pack abs, bulging biceps, could run like a gazelle… and had never done a single set of curls. “How is that even possible?” I demanded. “He does this thing called CrossFit,” my brother explained.

At first I was skeptical…how does it work?  All the workouts are short?  How is that supposed to work?  I was used to spending several hours in the gym.  But the more I learned, and the more I experienced CrossFit, the more I understood.

And as my understanding of CrossFit grows, I continue to geek out over many of the positive correlates that come with it.  The short, intense workouts provide a laundry list of health benefits.  The functional movements are perfectly tailored to leading healthy, functional lives- I’ve changed my personal motto from “I want to age gracefully” to “I want to age functionally”.  I love how nutrition is so integral to the CrossFit mantra.  Understanding the underlying principles of nutrition has completely changed the way that I view food- I’m far more informed of how foods affect my metabolism and performance, allowing me to make educated decisions about my diet.

I finally understood two of the key variables in the equation- appropriate exercise and informed dietary practices.

But I feel that there is an unseen variable that people don’t account for; the variable that Dr. Wolf discovered in Roseto: community.

The benefit of community is something that can be easily demonstrated at CrossFit boxes across the world.  It is prevalent at CrossFit ABV, where I take pride in working out and coaching athletes, and where I have witnessed countless examples of it. I see it every morning with my 5:00 AM crew- there are not many places where people will show up early for a 5:00 a.m. class and then take the time to roll out and stretch together while they catch up with their fellow athletes (yes, there are people who relish the opportunity to exercise at 5:00 AM…  I know it happens at our other classes too, but it takes a special person and a special group to converse so easily and share a laugh with another when it is 4:50 in the morning).

I’ve seen it in all of the community events we’ve had- the ladies’ nights, the occasional bro sesh, the trips to trampoline parks, the mud runs and 5k’s, the kayak floats down the Catawba River, skeet shooting trips, brewery tours, and everything inbetween. And I’ve seen the way it’s possible to get the whole family involved, too, with family workouts and bowling nights.

This level of community is hard to match, and I love the atmosphere that we have created at ABV. I’m proud to encourage and promote fitness, but I’m truly honored to be a part of a community in which the people that have become so much more than just our workout partners.

You’re not going to get that at a conventional gym- trust me, I was there, and I was that guy.  I was the guy who didn’t want to take out my headphones when someone came up to me with something to say.  I was the guy who got slightly ticked off when someone was too close to the area that I was using or grabbed equipment that I wasn’t finished with.  These gyms do not generally foster community, and while it possible to get healthy there if utilized appropriately, in my opinion you aren’t gaining the full health benefits that can be gained from interacting with like-minded people from many different backgrounds.

Whether you prefer a run group, spin class, yoga, F3, or Zumba- any place where you can sweat with many of the same familiar faces on a regular basis and improve your fitness… That’s awesome. I’m so glad community occurs in other places and I fully endorse whatever method a person takes to find health and happiness.  This country needs more happy, healthy people.  And I believe that community can play an integral role in creating healthy, happy people. We can all find strength in numbers.

REGARDLESS OF HOW YOU CHOOSE TO GET YOUR HEART RATE UP, I HOPE YOU FIND A GROUP OF MOTIVATED AND RESPECTFUL PEOPLE TO DO IT WITH.