The more I’ve learned about the human body, and the longer I’ve lived in mine, the more I’ve come to reject our culture’s notions of what it means to be “fit” and “healthy.”
I could explain it a lot of ways, but it can be easily summed up by saying I no longer look at pictures of models in fitness magazines and think of them as healthy, fit, strong or even necessarily well.
This shouldn’t be news to regular readers of this blog. I’ve written about it before here and in social media, and I share lots of articles that, in one way or another, allude to this.
But remember, I am in the fitness industry and I have been for more than a decade. So this reconfiguration of what it means to be healthy, fit and well that’s taken place in my own head means that I kind of have to reject a lot of what fuels my industry.
While I’ve been forthcoming about rejecting the traditional fitness paradigm, what I haven’t really shared is what my view has transformed into. I thought I’d do that today.
I was walking this morning and, as usual, opted for a grassy, hilly trek adjacent to the paved path in the park where I was. Also, as usual, I was on the lookout for people of authority (i.e., the buildings and grounds workers from the university) who might tell me to get off of the grass.
Whenever possible, I make the deliberate choice to walk on textures and topography that challenge me and, as I walked this particular hill today, I realized how much more my body was able to do now compared with when I was twenty or thirty.
Back then, I was extremely adept at “working out.” I was doing lots of resistance work, some step aerobics (more in my twenties and less in my thirties), and ran very far distances on flat, paved surfaces. I considered myself fit and, by cultural standards – including the standards that most M.D.s would have used – I was “fit.”
Specificity is the principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.
Adaptation refers to the body’s ability to adjust to increased or decreased physical demands.
(Both definitions from Elizabeth Quinn, M.S., an exercise specialist.)
Ten years ago, I would have been wary climbing the hill I climbed today. I would have worried about turning my ankle and that fear would have been well-founded. Because my body was well-adapted to the training I was giving it but that training was exclusively on flat paved surfaces or smooth gym floors. (I also had no clue how to achieve true core stability, but that’s a blog post for another day.)
So, what I’m driving at is that my old paradigm where “being good at gym-going” translated into “health” has been replaced by a new paradigm.
The body that this new paradigm creates probably isn’t fitness magazine-worthy. But it’s resilient and robust. It gets challenged in so many more ways than my gym body was challenged.
So here’s the thing. If you always run on a treadmill, if you live and die by your three spin classes a week, if you go to the same instructor’s barre class week after week because you love the burn, if you walk the same track in the same direction every Wednesday … if you do anything like this, think about changing something. Give your body the opportunity to be challenged in a different way. I’m not asking you to up the intensity, although that may happen any time you encounter a new experience. Just do something where your brain doesn’t go on autopilot and where your body has to react to the environment instead of the environment making your movement easier.
It’s no fair of me to ask you to shift your paradigm without giving you a picture of what your alternative might be. There is life outside of the traditional “mirror muscle” or “cardio crazy” culture.
If you need help imagining how you might create a lifestyle with more physical challenge, comment and share your thoughts. I can help and, if I can’t I have a cool hive mind of like-minded people at my fingertips whose brains I can pick for ideas.
(My teacher, Katy Bowman, M.S., also recently recorded a great podcast about the hurdles to moving more. To listen, go here and check out episode #16.)