What does it really mean to be ‘fit’?

men our society, there is a focus on being “fit.” Some people joke that they’re “out of shape” or “out of shape” when they feel out of breath after climbing stairs, but that can be perfectly normal and healthy. In magazines and advertisements, we see “fitness” illustrated as people with abs who regularly go to the gym. But as TikTokers Ella Halikas and Laetitia De Carufel have shared, being “fit” and working out regularly doesn’t necessarily mean you look a certain way.

So what does it mean to be fit? We asked doctors and personal trainers how they define fitness, specifically, as well as what they think is more important than the label.

What it means (and what it doesn’t) to be “fit”

“If I have to define ‘fitness’ now, I think of cardiovascular efficiency, endurance, exercise capacity, flexibility, strength, ease of movement…Y I also like to remember that none of this is a moral or social obligation for any individual,” says Maggie Landes, MD. “And you’ll notice that none of the ‘fitness’ criteria would be apparent just by looking at a person’s physical appearance.”

While fitness can be measured in some way, it’s time to ditch the idea that fitness equates to a certain body type. “There are a lot of skinny people who are out of shape and a lot of people with bigger bodies who are in shape,” adds Katherine Hill, MD, FAAP, board-certified pediatrician, eating disorder expert, and vice president of medical affairs at Equip. “Body size shouldn’t be part of the equation.”

Fitness also looks different for each individual, and being seen as “fit” isn’t as important as being able to live your life to the fullest. “Your goal should be for your body to be able to function as effectively and efficiently as possible to support you at work and play throughout your life,” says Nicole Chapman, personal trainer and creator of the Power of Mum exercise program. “For example, you may be able to run five miles in less than 20 minutes, but if you have difficulty lifting your child in and out of the crib or putting away groceries without aches, pains, or lack of strength, then strength training? Will it be more beneficial to your life than resistance?

Dr. Hill thinks similarly. “I like to think of fitness or wellness in terms of, ‘Is this person capable of doing the activities they need or enjoy doing to live a full life?’” he says. “Can you go for a bike ride with your family and mostly keep up with your kids? Do they sleep well most nights and feel rested in the morning? Do they have positive and meaningful relationships with friends and family?

However, as with anything, it’s about balance. It is vital to note that overdoing it can be directly harmful to your body. Chapman explains that doing high-intensity exercise without rest days can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which can lead to fatigue, poor sleep, exhaustion, anxiety, and more. “So, are you really ‘fit’?” she says.

How to exercise in a healthy way

Although diet culture often encourages people to go too far, it’s okay to have fitness goals, enjoy moving your body, and want to be able to do things with ease. So what is the best way to do it?

1. Choose exercises that address your specific needs

“In practice, I think the best way for a person to pursue ‘fitness’ is to decide which aspects of fitness, like the ones I’ve mentioned, would improve the quality of their life,” says Dr. Landes .

For grandparents, this may seem like working on flexibility so they can play on the floor with their grandchildren, she adds, while people who have to walk a lot for work may want to focus on resistance training.

“For example, the deadlift mimics the motions of picking things up and putting them down, which reduces the chance of injury when carrying groceries, objects, or lifting socks off the floor,” says Chapman.

You can learn how to deadlift the right way below:

2. Practice physical activity to feel good, not compulsively

Moving your body can be a great thing, as long as you’re listening to it too. “I strongly believe that physical activity, when done in reasonable amounts and for the right reasons, can have a positive impact on health and fitness,” says Dr. Hill. (Just look at the benefits of TikTok hot girl rides!) She lists a boost in mood, increased focus, extra energy, better sleep quality, less anxiety, and better body image as some of those positive effects. .

However, be careful how you frame the exercise. Phrases like “I have to” and exercising when you’re hurt or missing other things can be red flags. “Exercise can become compulsive, and there are many people who would be considered ‘fit’ by society but spend so much time in the gym that they feel guilty when they don’t exercise and are missing out on things like relationships, sleep and general enjoyment of life. life,” explains Dr. Hill. “That’s not fitness, or wellness, in my book.”

3. Set sustainable goals that include rest days

And of course, set realistic and sustainable goals (using the SMART method can help) so you can stay consistent and avoid overexerting yourself. “Find an exercise routine that you can do consistently week after week that fits your lifestyle and [is] achievable,” says Chapman. “It can be two 30-minute home workouts a week… there’s no point in trying to train four or five times a week if it’s not sustainable.”

Finally, rest days are days of rest, without guilt. “I’m a big advocate of rest days being just as important as training days,” she adds, explaining that they can help your muscles and central nervous system recover and allow you to perform at your best.

The bottom line

Ultimately, focus on living your best life, without changing what you see in the mirror. And if fitness isn’t a value for you, that’s okay too! Dr. Landes encourages you to stick to his personal goals, knowing that he deserves respect regardless of his fitness level or ability. “The pursuit of fitness, if desired, tailored to the individual, has the opportunity to positively impact physical, mental, and emotional health, even if it has no impact on the physical appearance of the body.”

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