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Health and Fitness: Timeless Lessons From the Greatest Generation

Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have served in our country’s armed forces, also serves as a fitting occasion to reflect on the qualities that make those people remarkable. The Greatest Generation – those who lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II – are aptly named for their resilience, perseverance, and remarkable spirit. They faced challenges with an unwavering strength and determination that we can still learn from today. Their lifestyles, which included much more physical activity and simple diets, can provide us valuable lessons about health and fitness.

Lesson One: Embrace Physical Labor and Activity

The Greatest Generation lived in a time where technology hadn’t yet reduced the need for physical labor. Whether it was performing household chores, working in fields, factories or offices, walking or biking for transportation, their daily routines incorporated a significant amount of physical activity. In contrast, our modern society has become largely sedentary, with many of us spending our days sitting at desks, driving cars, and looking at screens. We can honor this generation by incorporating more physical activity into our daily lives. This could mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator, biking to work, gardening, or simply going for a walk around the neighborhood. Exercise has been shown to boost mental and physical health, decrease the risk of many diseases, and improve overall quality of life.

Lesson Two: Simple, Whole Foods Nutrition

The Greatest Generation did not have the same access to processed foods that we do today. Their diet was largely composed of whole foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean meats. They also consumed less sugar, less salt, and fewer processed oils, which are now recognized as contributing factors to chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. To emulate their healthier diet, we could reduce our intake of processed foods and increase our consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Lesson Three: Mindful Eating

During the time of the Greatest Generation, food was not as readily available or abundant as it is now. People generally ate at home and shared meals as a family. There was a deep appreciation and mindfulness about food that our fast-paced, convenience-oriented society has often lost. Slowing down, paying attention to what we’re eating, and appreciating our meals can help us feel more satisfied and less inclined to overeat.

Lesson Four: Building Community through Physical Activities

The Greatest Generation fostered community through physical activities such as neighborhood games, dancing, and community gardening. Today, we often seek community online or in sedentary environments, but there is great value in connecting with others through physical activities. Joining a local sports team, taking a group exercise class, or volunteering for a community garden or park clean-up can foster a sense of community and improve our physical health simultaneously.

Lesson Five: Resilience and Determination

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the Greatest Generation is their resilience and determination. They faced the harsh realities of economic depression and global conflict with courage and resolve. This mental fortitude undoubtedly contributed to their overall health and wellbeing. Cultivating our mental strength and resilience can significantly influence our physical health, providing the motivation to exercise, the discipline to eat healthily, and the determination to maintain healthy habits in the face of challenges.

This Memorial Day, as we honor the Greatest Generation, let’s also consider adopting some of their healthy habits. By embracing physical activity, consuming simple, whole foods, practicing mindful eating, building community through physical activities, and developing resilience and determination, we can improve our own health and fitness while also honoring their legacy.