athlete - (ăth′lēt″) - noun
One who participates in physical exercise or sports, especially in competitive events.
One possessing the requisite strength, agility, and endurance for success in sports.
I have been an athlete for my entire life, and I would argue that so have you (if the definition of the word is someone who prepares themselves physically in order to win a prize). This preparation started when we were in the womb, growing and developing. The prize is a functional and enjoyable existence in our bodies.
As babies develop under normal circumstances, they exhibit a rapid increase in gross and fine motor skills. In under a year, babies go from being completely immobile and unable to manipulate objects, to being able to stand (and, in some cases, walk) and handle objects in their hands. After another year they are able to run, climb, draw, and feed themselves with relative ease. After ten years the dexterity and strength that children have gained compared to day one is staggering. After twenty, it is almost unbelievable. Barring any major setbacks, we all go through this progression seamlessly.
There is no reason that this growth and refinement can't continue for the rest of our lives, too. There are countless examples of people of advanced age (the PC way of saying elderly nowadays) taking on new and exciting athletic endeavors--skateboarding, surfing, marathon running, rock climbing, weightlifting--that require a high degree of coordination and strength. The constant demands that these sports impose keep these athletes engaged with life instead of afraid of living it. As a result, they are less likely to suffer from depression, loss of balance, and cognitive decline which is typical for this population.
This begs two questions: What does long-term athleticism look like and what are the factors that support it?
The first step, not surprisingly, is a shift in mindset. We must start identifying as athletes--as people who train our bodies for the rigors and demands of life, in order to enjoy the pleasures of living with minimal pain and interference. From this place, we plan and prepare our days to best serve this goal. We organize our lives to include adequate endurance, strength, and flexibility training. Proper recovery, nutrition, and sleep are necessary components if we wish to continue to show up and improve in our training. A supportive community for staying active and challenged is also a must.
Being an athlete need not be extreme, but it must be anchored in some kind of goal-setting/assessment process. These goals help to keep us honest and accountable. Seeking out coaches, or educational material, to help us reach these goals is a step that all of the best athletes do. If we aren't learning and refining our practice, then we are just exercising, not training. There is nothing wrong with exercising (and this may be part of the long-term program of our athletic development), but I have seen burnout and injury occur so many times with mindless exercise. When we know why we are doing what we are doing, it gives us agency over our own development. For instance, I know that the reason I get on the rower 2-3 times each week to 'exercise' isn't because I like doing it necessarily. What I like is that I know it will help me to be healthier and more balanced overall.
Do you see yourself as an athlete? What are your goals? What are you doing to stay in the game of life?