When I was running a half marathon last month, I took to people watching to block out the pain and it caused me to question, not for the first time, what it means to be fit and healthy.
On my slow descent to exhaustion, I took in the runners around me (and the many overtaking me) and noticed that the body type most culturally associated with health and fitness, (think poster model for Abercrombie and Fitch before they embraced physical diversity), weren’t always the ones who were faring best on their long jog to the finish line.
Of course, there were plenty of people that looked like this sailing by, but there were plenty of poster boys and gals who were struggling, whilst people of all ages, shapes, and sizes that you would never see on fitness industry adverts were smashing it. Could there perhaps be more to health and fitness than six pack abs and guns of steel?
Physical fitness is the ability to carry out a specific physical exercise or activity. Training at the gym every day will not necessarily equip a person with the physical and mental abilities needed to run for thirteen miles.
It’s all too easy to convince ourselves that we’re healthy because we look a certain way or because we’ve achieved a certain level of fitness. Fitness tends to be very specific. If I’m doing HIIT sessions regularly then I might be able to smash a round of burpees but ask me to run three miles and I’m going to struggle. If I’m into my strength training, then I might look toned but send me to a yoga class and I’ll be more stiff-as-a-board than downward dog. Fit means different things to different people, and just as we can’t do it all in life, we cannot be fit in everything.
I’ve been fit in different ways over the past seven years. There was a time when I exercised twice a day and weighed my food (I was so much fun at parties), a brief period when I dabbled in Crossfit (loved the muscles but couldn’t handle the fist-bumping), my ‘happiest’ fit time when I attended regular boot camp sessions at a local gym with a great group of people who I loved chatting to, and my more recent training for the run, which developed my cardiovascular system and endurance but left me dreading exercise.
Which of these periods was the healthiest? For me, it wasn’t necessarily when I looked the fittest, it was when I was regularly engaging in exercise that left me feeling good afterwards, and this often incorporated a social element. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed running was when I found a running buddy and we put the world to rights on our jogs, it was like a therapy session disguised as exercise.
But what about health? Many of the times when I was at the peak of my physical fitness, I wasn’t that healthy. I was obsessed with what I ate and when I ate it, felt guilty if I skipped an exercise session, and I held a lot of guilt and emotions around food.
True health equates to more than our physicality.
The World Health Organisation defines health as, ‘complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’
If I look at it like this, I think I’m doing ok on the health scale at the moment. I exercise regularly, but a fifteen-minute focused exercise session and a brisk walk with my dog each day is enough to leave my head clear and my body energised. It’s got much more to do with how I feel than how I look. I’ve had to cultivate peace with the fact my body is a little softer than when I was strictly controlled in eating and exercise. This has been hard, because I have a tendency, as so many of us do, to compare my current self to the past version of me, which is just as unhealthy as comparing myself to others. At this point in my life, sharing a bowl of pasta or ice cream with my family and having the time to write, meditate and have a little fun (which has detracted from the amount of time I have to exercise and meal prep), is an important part of my overall health too.
In an ideal world, our culture will begin to separate health and fitness from how we look physically and take a more holistic approach to individual health. We are all so different, and there is no one size fits all to health and fitness. The trick is to find what energises you and then to honour that as consistently as possible, whilst allowing room for fun and laughter, which in my opinion are the most overlooked components of good health.
What’s your take on health and fitness?
Thanks for reading. If you’re new here why not and you enjoyed this article then why not explore the rest of my blog, there’s something for everyone. You can enter your email to receive notifications every time I post. Click the Instagram and Twitter icons to follow me on social media.