Pamela Peeke: Look Hot, But Don’t Go Up In Flames

By Tracy Morris

Single women have so many reasons to strive toward being “fit” — but how do you define fitness? You look better. You feel better. How about “You survive.”

Aren’t a huge percentage of us coddled to a large degree by living lives filled with our basic needs and more? We’re either lulled into or we consciously buy a sense of security that everything will generally be all right in our daily existence.

Imagine this: it’s September 11, 2001, and you work at a building across from the World Trade Center. Fast forward to January 2008 when New York Times’ columnist, Tara Parker-Pope, recalls having to flee from her workplace on the day that’s come to be known simply as 9/11.

“A nine-floor descent doesn’t sound like much, but my group was stuck behind a slow-moving overweight woman. It took what seemed like forever to get out, and it was truly frightening,” she wrote in her NYT health blog, Well.

Are you fit to live?

pic1Dr. Pamela Peeke, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland and a best-selling author, proposes that question in both her book, Fit to Live and the related TV show coming soon to the Discovery Health Channel.

Dr. Peeke had her own 9/11 moment.

“The concept for Fit to Live was inspired from that day as I watched and knew I was losing friends in both the Towers and in the Pentagon,” Dr. Peeke recounts. “Like everyone else, I was thinking about what it took to get out of those buildings. Then a few years later, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We all saw people who didn’t have the strength to pull themselves up to the tops of houses to survive the flooding. In these cases, who knew that such strength would be called on to simply survive?”

Do you have to an Olympic-level athlete to win the survival-of-the-fittest game of life?

No, Peeke says. The chief medical correspondent for Discovery Health Television has already written and spoken for years on how to get and stay in shape to look and feel better. She says that witnessing those momentous catastrophes rendered an “AHA” moment.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks — what an incentive for people! Are you literally fit to live? Fit to live your dreams? To survive? To be able to challenge yourself and enjoy your life? In order to achieve those goals, you simply have to take better care of yourself.”

“It’s not being in shape just to look hot — everyone wants to look hot, who doesn’t? But what every person really wants is to get to a place where they feel phenomenal about themselves and, if they had to, could save their child’s life, their own life…”

Another incentive that Dr. Peeke sees for women and men wanting to increase their fitness levels — concerns about aging. She says that our fears are warranted because study after study demonstrates a loss of upper body strength across the board. Women are especially worried. Why?

“The most valuable thing in life to women is independence and the related need to be a caregiver.” Global surveys have been conducted to inquire about people’s aging-related fears. “From men,” Peeke says, “you get a litany of details on the various ways of dying. From women, first thing — they’re scared to lose their independence.”

Peeke’s concept isn’t simply an activity plan or workout book. She addresses the whole package necessary to survival — physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Fit to Live is really more of a movement than a how-to program. She calls her ‘fit to live’ concept “integrated fitness.”

“No more of this silliness that your goal is to have big biceps but be a mentally stressed wreck. Or just because you eat well, you don’t exercise. Or you exercise, but you eat trash. Tons of people are doing that — those are all things that will shorten your lifespan in a heartbeat.”

A favorite quote of Dr. Peeke’s comes from one of her heroes, Sister Genevieve Kunkel, a 90-plus year old nun who participated in a famous long-term study of Sisters of Notre Dame on the topic of longevity.

“When they asked about her secret to success with living long and lively, Sister Kunkel said, ‘I have but two good traits. I’m alert, and I’m vertical.’ You know, the woman’s right! I knew that was the mission statement of this book. I want to be alert and vertical — and independent — for as long as I want until one day, I decide otherwise.”

You have to be fit to live to do that, Dr. Peeke asserts.

And who would argue?

But back to my worry about needing to be a big-time athlete…

The Discovery Channel’s reality-TV special based on Dr. Peeke’s book (which is soon to be a series) took participants who were chosen because they closely mirror “average” Americans. In a kind of pre-test/post-test fashion, they were put through their paces in a scenario created by Dr. Peeke: the Burning Building Escape.

“What does it take to maintain that ’fire of life’ in your belly, that passion for life?” is the question Peeke poses. “Exhaustion happens to everyone eventually, but earlier for people who aren’t fit to live.”

It all starts in the mind. She says if you don’t have a reason to live, it’s over.

To closely simulate the reality of a terrifying event, none of the show’s participants knew in advance what would be expected of them. Turns out, nobody survived the initial scenario. The show made a point up-front by the choice of its participants.

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