When most of us think of what fitness “looks” like, we can tend to begin and end with appearance. But that of course is only a small, and not particularly useful, part of the story. It sort of misses the point.
Add to this, the images of what most of us believe fitness should look like are very limited. They do not take into account the full array of human bodies.
The reality is this: the shape fitness takes looks different for every single person.
So let’s put this idea of what fitness looks like in another light: let’s consider a more holistic approach that focuses on what fitness really is: wellness.
What Is Fitness Anyway?
In a general sense, yes, fitness is a state of health and wellness. It’s a state of being able to survive and thrive.
When you are fit, you are able to complete the tasks that are important to you, whether that’s carrying your luggage through airports, enjoying a round of golf, running an ultra, or playing with the children in your life.
When you're fit, you can do these things without easily getting injured or without being in pain. You have good balance and agility. You can easily get up and down from the floor or from a sitting position.
When you’re fit, you feel strong and capable. You feel resilient. Your immune system functions well. You can navigate the emotional and psychological stresses of your life without continually becoming overwhelmed.
One glaringly clear point here is that none of these elements of fitness has a specific outward appearance.
Key Factors for Achieving Fitness
So if we aren’t going to focus on how we look in the mirror as a primary gauge or motivation for fitness, what should we focus on?
I’d suggest focusing on feeling good and discovering the joy of living in a strong, capable body–whatever form that takes. Let’s look at a few key factors that will help you get there.
We’ve focused on the importance of sleep elsewhere in these blogs, but it really can’t be overemphasized. Sleep is when your body resets and when so many important functions are strengthened, cleaned up, or otherwise put in order. Sleep helps you remain physically and psychologically well, both in the short term and long term.
Think really hard about choosing to cut back on sleep in order to get to other tasks in your life. You may just end up working against yourself. If you make cutting back on sleep a habit, you’ll make yourself more prone to illness, injury, and overall lack of well being. Sleep is that important.
Move Regularly and In a Variety of Ways
Call this exercise, a fitness regime, or your workouts, but whatever you call it, make sure it’s movement that’s varied. Ideally, you’ll have regular inputs of strength work, cardiovascular exercise, and stretching or full range of motion practices–like Pilates, Barre, and yoga.
How Are You Fueling Your Life?
Food is fuel. Focus on whole foods, as opposed to processed food. Be sure to get enough fats, carbohydrates, and protein (getting enough protein is especially critical for 40+ women). Ditch diets because they don’t work and can cause serious problems. Better to focus your energy on how to make your body feel good and work well than how to deprive it.
Remember to hydrate well, too. Good hydration helps everything function better and helps you feel better.
Your Thoughts and Feelings Matter
An important part of fitness is tending to your mental and emotional well-being. How you perceive the world around you and your place in it has a tremendous impact on your wellness.
Attending to your thoughts and feelings–be it through therapy, meditation, or taking a walk to clear your mind–is a very worthwhile and necessary part of your fitness regime. Your body and mind continuously work together and impact each other.
The Reality of Wanting to “Look Fit”
Alright, it’s no small thing that many of us work out to attain a certain type of appearance. That cannot be dismissed. And it does feel nice when you see changes that result from consistently sticking with a fitness program.
Many of us want to drop some pounds. Fair enough. But there are no magic secrets to this process. For most of us, following the simple guidelines above will get you to a shape and size where your body is happy and healthy.
It is important to remember here that body chemistry, especially for women, does change over time, and that can have an impact on your body composition. That doesn't mean it's a time to crash diet, however. It means it's a good time to switch up your habits and rediscover what works for you in this new body chemistry. (The book Next Level by Dr. Stacey Sims and Selene Yeager is a must-have resource for women going into peri- and post-menopause, and it addresses nutrition.)
The key in the end, however, is appreciating the way your body looks when it’s healthy. You are not, nor will you ever be, in someone else’s body.
Having a goal of looking like someone else or forcing your body into the very narrow image of the “fit look” that’s promoted in the media or other pop culture areas is generally a losing–and sometimes very dangerous–proposition. And it simply is not true.
This is where you get to choose. You have the choice to recognize the reality that fitness has no standard or fixed appearance. More so, you can choose to enjoy how your body looks when it’s healthy and feeling good. You can choose to love what your body can do and what it looks like when it's able to do fun or challenging stuff.
You can choose that fitness looks like you.