Heredity, obviously, plays the fundamental role in determining one's state of physical development. Assuring that a person is born with no major physical handicaps, then maintaining good general health and avoiding illness become part of a lifetime pattern that really is not too difficult to design and follow.
Food consumption becomes a very important part of the lives of people in all types of civilizations. Food is eaten not only for its contribution to the physical needs of the eater but also because of many cultural values associated with the act of eating. In American society food often serves the homemaker as the main source of her gratification, through earning the praise of her family and her guests for what she has placed on the table. Food serves as a reason for people to meet and carry on many social activities, ranging from major business deals to the exchanging of meaningful glances between young lovers.
Eating food certainly should be an enjoyable part of living in a country where we have not only an abundance of very high quality foods but also a tremendous variety of excellent and tasty foods that provide, if eaten in the right proportions, all of the essential nutrients we need to maintain good health and adequate energy sources.
We should all strive to help children learn to eat food basically to provide themselves the essential nutrients they need for good health and adequate supplies of energy to do all those things that children enjoy doing. While such training for our children certainly should be a primary national goal in developing sound physical fitness programs, we should not be at all hesitant about trying to re-educate many of our teenagers and adults to better eating habits. In spite of our plentiful food supply, there are millions of people in this country who are malnourished—not necessarily undernourished—because they have not learned how to select the right foods to provide a healthy nutritional pattern for eating.
Nutrition scientists in this country, trying to develop the best pattern of food consumption in line with the kinds of foods available, have offered a relatively simple Daily Food Guide for us to follow. The Guide suggests selecting foods from four major groups:
The Milk Group (including cheese and ice cream as well as all forms of milk): An adult should consume two or more eight-ounce glasses of milk each day.
The Vegetable-Fruit Group: Select four or more servings each day, including one serving of a good source of Vitamin C, one serving at least every other day of a good source of Vitamin A. The other servings may be any vegetables or fruits.
The Meat Group (including all meats, poultry, fish and eggs): Choose two or more servings each day.
The Bread-Cereals Group: Choose four or more servings daily.
Other Foods: After meeting the suggested servings from these four basic food groups, the Guide recommends selecting from other food sources adequate amounts to provide enough energy to meet daily requirements. The amount of food consumed, in terms of calories, must be balanced with the amount of energy expended. There will be a gain in weight if food intake exceeds energy output.
It is very wise, also, to keep in mind that foods should never be selected merely on the basis of the number of calories in any particular unit of food. For example, we dairy farmers would be especially grateful if more people would remember why milk has been called, "Nature's most nearly perfect food," since the dawn of civilization. The chart shows that milk provides a wide range of essential food nutrients, for people of all ages. Milk can hardly be classified as a "fattening" food on the basis of its nutrient contribution to the total diet. A pint of milk, or two eight-ounce glasses, supplies only 10% to 13% of an adult man's calorie needs, but this amount of milk, as the chart indicates, also provides 25% of the recommended amount of protein—and the highest quality protein available, 71% of the calcium, 15% of the Vitamin A, 46% of the riboflavin and 10% to 12% of the thiamine. There are other essential food nutrients in milk but in less important quantities.
Good general health, prevention of illness and a well balanced diet are all necessary for physical fitness, but they are by no means the total picture. Just as pills are not the answer to all our problems, neither is it possible to "eat your way to good health," as some of the food faddists and quacks proclaim. Adequate amounts of rest are necessary if the body is to recoup itself and to function effectively. The amount of rest any of us needs is something that experience alone teaches, but rest is essential.
Finally, among the physical requirements for physical fitness—and we should not overlook the interrelationship among physical, mental and moral, or spiritual factors in contributing to good health and happiness—we come to the matter of physical activity or exercise.
The required activity need not be violent exercise, but it should, if at all possible, certainly be daily exercise. Walking at least three miles each day, over and above the usual amount of walking on the job, is one of the easiest and best ways to get needed physical activity because walking does use the major body muscles. There certainly are many other forms of exercise that help if they can be done on a fairly regular basis, not merely on weekends—including bicycling, golf, tennis, handball, swimming, bowling, etc. Even a football or basketball game can provide the right kind of exercise, provided the participants walk to the stadium or fieldhouse instead of riding in the car.
All of us, for patriotic, for economic, for purely selfish reasons, would be wise to inventory our own state of physical fitness and to resolve to achieve a high level of well-being if we don't already enjoy it. Beyond this, all of us certainly owe it to our communities and to our nation's future to give much more than lip service to President Kennedy and those he has designated to develop better and sensible physical fitness programs.
Every school child should certainly be getting encouragement and training to develop a personal, lifetime physical fitness plan. This should include knowledge about eating a well balanced diet, the need for adequate rest and encouragement of the kind of physical activity that could easily become a permanent and enjoyable part of the adult living pattern. Gymnasiums and stadiums for spectator sports are hardly enough to fulfill our obligations to our children in this area of physical fitness. In fact, having these facilities may often mislead us badly about how many of our children really are getting adequate physical training in our schools.
Above all else, we should avoid the idea that physical fitness is something of concern only to the young of our species. It is most certainly a cradle-to-grave need for all of us, one that properly planned and developed, can provide some big bonuses in longer life and more years of useful, energetic and enjoyable life.