Another year passes with holidays and festivities to be enjoyed. All the effort that has gone into maintaining one's physique and fitnesswill be threatened by a few days of relaxation and good food.

Perhaps one of the clearer distinctions in America is that of people who regularly exercise and those who don't. America has perhaps the highest rate of obesity in the world, yet more people seem to exercise regularly than anywhere else.

The idea of deliberate exercise, especially in the form of health clubs, and running around cities purely for the "fun" of it, is a peculiarity of modern western culture. You rarely see people in Asia or Africa doing such things. It would seem to be partly a product of class and the factor of disposable time and income. This is not to say that people in Asia and Africa are healthy and don't need to exercise and that the only reason we do it is because of unnaturally sedentary existences.

Many people in these cultures are not healthy for many reasons, including not exercising. However, it has to be questioned whether such religious zeal for exercise is always good for a person. It does seem rather bizarre that many people can spend so many hours of their lives dedicated to serving their own desired image for their body, especially when it is done in the artificial environment of a club. Does this really make a person healthier?

Perhaps we should first consider what health is. Health can be said to be a state of body and mind which allows a person to experience life fully, to ideally have an opportunity to realize their potential, to be reasonably free from pain and other bodily affliction, to experience a degree of contentment and to have a level of humility and dignity.

Our obsession on the body can often happen at the expense of what is going on in our minds. Many people have written about the power of mental attitude over bodily functions and the importance of such things as laughter, relaxation, good company, friends and family in maintaining health. Norman Cousins, in his famous book, Anatomy of an Illness described the power laughter had in helping cure himself of a serious disease.

Therefore, perhaps it is better for us to enjoy the holidays, even eat a little too much, relax more, spend more time with people and drop the guilt because we are not going to the gym to burn off last night's food. There is more to life than looking at the digital readout of a treadmill to see how many calories are being shed every 5 minutes.