How Do You Know If You’re Physically Fit?

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Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. -JFK

On my blog, Brain Brawn Beautie, I talk about matters of health every Wednesday. The vast majority of the time, I talk about mental and emotional health by tackling topics like stress, self-actualization, self-care, grief, and much more. I find these types of topics to be most relevant to my daily life, however, every now and again, I do talk about physical health as well.

I started thinking about how little I discuss physical health yesterday, and how that directly relates to how little I’ve been working out lately. Then, I started to wonder if I’m actually “in shape”. When I go to the doctor, I’m told that I have a healthy BMI, and I eat generally well. I drink nothing but water, except for the occasional soda/sweet tea splurge when I go out to eat. Yet, am I really healthy? As a person who not only discusses health through my online content, but also coaches a gymnastics team, I’m really starting to wonder if I’m living up to my own hype.

My boyfriend just recently enrolled in his required college fitness class, which will be condensed into a month long course during a university summer session. When I looked at the requirements on the syllabus, I laughed. The requirements for the course seemed ridiculously difficult! These kids have one month to be able to run a mile in less than 6 minutes (Something I could only do when I was running varsity cross country). They also had to be able to do 60 push-ups in 2 minutes, and an even larger quantity of sit-ups.

Even though I wasn’t taking the course, I felt oddly pressured just looking at the syllabus, as I wondered if these types of requirements are really indicative of what a 20 year old should be able to do. And if so, could I?

Out of curiosity, are started doing some research to see what other people consider, “in shape” to mean.  Some people believe that you can prove fitness by holding a plank position for a full minute. The website cheatsheet.com suggests that as long as you do at least two hours of moderate to vigorous exercise each week, you should be pretty healthy. Harvard Medical says that if you want to stay in shape, you should regularly swim, do Tai Chi, and/or strength train.

The number of definitions and opinions on physical fitness seem limitless. I didn’t want to pick just one. As I was looking around for definitive answers on the web, I stumbled across the Mayo Clinic’s 5 step fitness program. In this program, the first step involves assessing your current level of fitness by completing several tests like walking/running the mile, and doing push-ups — just like in my boyfriend’s fitness class. Then, after they describe the tests, they tell you to design a fitness program for yourself and just monitor your progress. That’s when it hit me. Maybe fitness shouldn’t involve some lofty end goal like the ones required in a fitness course. Maybe the goal should just be progress.

Physical fitness and getting in shape can easily be a long, and confusing road for a lot of people. Every person on this earth has a different body, and while it can be enticing to just ask, “what weight should I be at my age?” or “how many sit-ups should I be able to do on the first try?”, it will probably be a better choice to let progress be your goal. Rather than focusing on fitting into a mold, simply focus on being a better you than you were yesterday. If you’re improving, you’re doing something right by any doctor, scientist, or trainer’s standards.

Today, I’m starting my new exercise plan, and my only goal is to improve. I plan to run, do push-ups, do sit-ups, and maybe toss a fun fitness class like Zumba or Barre into the mix. Most importantly, I’m going to track my progress so I know when and where I need to step up my workouts. And if I get to a point where I really feel like I can’t improve on something any more than I already have, I’ll change the rotation. For example, if I ever manage to max out how many push-ups I can do in a minute, I’ll start practicing a side-plank, or I’ll try to learn more yoga moves.

I think the idea of broad requirements for physical fitness are a little antiquated. Sure, they might be useful in a general sense — like teaching a med student whether they need to tell their patient that a medical condition may be related to their weight, and therefore, they need to step up their exercise game. When it comes to designing a workout for yourself, however, I think you should forget the requirements, tests, and quizzes you see all over the internet. The information out there often changes or conflicts, and all those rules tend to result in more stress than they’re worth. If you’re exercising multiple times a week in a measurable way and you’re improving over time, I think you’re going to be just fine.

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