What is “fitness”? (Part 2)

In part 1, I talked about two definitions of fitness that are based on biology. I argued that they are no longer valid, or at least not entirely satisfactory, in this day and age.

The basic premise for that conclusion is that our environment is radically different from what our bodies have evolved to handle. For a large portion of the population, that’s fact.

In part 2, I’d like to focus on the following: we all have a kind of intuition that something about our lifestyle is wrong. I referred to that as a kind of understanding that we are all unfit, in the biological sense, for this modern environment we’ve created. And that makes us less than optimally healthy.

With this starting point in mind, I’d like to offer that we have seen the rise of another definition of fitness:

Fitness = Training Hard

Indeed, the response of a portion of the population to the malaise of being unfit has been one of intense activity, as illustrated by the popularity of endurance events like marathons and triathlons, extreme body workouts like cross-fit, P90X, and so on.

For many, what I would qualify of knee-jerk reaction to not being fit has become a quasi-religious fanaticism to working out hard. (Accompanied, incidentally, by a lot of driving around to get to the gym, and sitting on our behinds the rest of the time.)

All too often, it is focused on the visible aspect of fitness: lean, muscular bodies. Attractiveness has become part of the equation, but along a specific kind of esthetics that brings about its own slew of problems. This suggests:

Fitness = Looking Good

Oh, and on the diet side, there’s just as much intensity in the response, and yet the fundamentals of our modern food supply are not being addressed. But that will be the subject of another post…

When training becomes training hard and intensity becomes obsession, the door is wide open to injury. Anecdotally, even to death. We are far from thriving in our environment when we provoke our own injuries and precipitate radically negative consequences.

Accompanied by slogans like “no pain, no gain”, focusing on weight loss as a measure of success, and giving rise to an industry dedicated to coaxing you into their tailor-made fitness crazes, it should be clear those definitions, while accepted by many, fall short. Why? Because they are too extreme, and focus on external characteristics, not deep capabilities, of our bodies.

My contention is as follows: we need to make ourselves fit our new environment in a smart and adaptive way, not through extremes of over-compensation. And we need to focus on what matters most, ultimately, for our overall health, not what we look like.

That’s why I suggest to adopt a new definition that includes fitting in the environment we’ve made for ourselves, being able to reproduce (yes, even that still matters, in small quantities), and if at all possible, thriving in today’s reality. A new definition that is intimately linked to health, in the sense of being able to function at optimal levels for a good long time.

And that will be the subject of part 3…

This blog is open to discussions. Feel free to comment.

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