The media has painted a picture of fitness that’s pretty inaccurate. You look to popular magazines, Instagram, even TV and you see smiling models showing off their chiseled abs or their extreme curves.
What you don’t see is that behind that happy image is usually a load of misery. The drugs and the starvation diets that these cover models put themselves through are kept hidden from you. In most cases, it’s not a healthy lifestyle.
Why is it that we characterize fitness as having a chiseled 6-pack anyway? It might come as a result of good health, but it shouldn’t represent it. You may have a 6-pack but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re fit.
So how should fitness be determined?
Here’s what I think you should be asking yourself to find out:
- How well can you focus?
- How well do you interact with others?
- How good is your patience?
- How happy are you?
- What’s your energy level like throughout the day?
- How resilient is your immune system?
- Do you put on weight very easily?
- Do you struggle to gain weight?
The trouble with these questions is that most people don’t know what to compare to. Standards are set way too low.
People that have short tempers, may have always had short tempers. How are they supposed to judge that? By expecting more out of themselves.
Another example is having something bad happen at work. Do the small things get you down? Or are you mentally resilient? How hard is it to knock you out of a good mood?
We’ve come to expect way too little out of our mental and physical health. The majority of society has also failed to identify how lifestyle decisions affect our mental performance. In my opinion, our mental capacity and mental energy is the best indicator of our fitness.
Being able to focus and get things done comes down to your lifestyle decisions. Believe it or not, your fitness is indicated pretty clearly by how well you can focus and how good your patience is.
Inflammation is a prime contributor to brain fog and your body’s energy production/usage. Having an abnormally high level of inflammation can cause you to struggle with focus and patience. This trickles down into how well you deal with your day-to-day interactions with other people.
Inflammation is deeply impacted by your diet, your stress level and environmental toxins. Most people don’t pay attention to these aspects of their lifestyle as something that would influence their mental capacity.
However, things like hidden food allergies (more subtle than a typical allergic reaction) and bad gut bacteria (from over-consumption of alcohol, antibiotics, etc.) are just two of the many reasons that we struggle mentally.
Researchers now consider the gut to be your second brain. A whopping 95% of your serotonin (happiness hormone) is produced in the gut! To add to this already amazing stat is that there is 400x more melatonin (sleep hormone) in the gut than there is in the brain!
The old saying of “trust your gut instinct” may have had some merit to it after all. Unfortunately, you can’t trust that instinct if your gut is in poor health.
Inflammation can cause all of these systems to go awry and having these systems go awry causes inflammation. It’s a viscous cycle.
And with high inflammation sapping your energy, your mood, your concentration and your patience will all be affected. That’s not typically how we’ve seen it in the past but I truly believe it to be an important aspect of fitness.
Having high inflammation and a colony of gut bacteria that is more harmful than helpful could ultimately mean that you have troubles with anxiety and depression. Research is starting to show a very strong link.
Seems to me that these markers of health are much more indicative of overall fitness.
When flu season rolls around, you can’t help but realize how many people around you get sick. Now is that normal? Have you ever asked that question?
Simply questioning this trend is what it takes to break free from our society’s low standards of health. Many believe that our bodies should be and have been more resistant to bugs. It all comes down to lifestyle.
When it comes to immunity, you may find it hard to believe that the majority of your immune system is kept in your gut. The gut is one of the places in your body that the outer world comes in contact with your blood.
The immune system is there to fight off any invaders (with the help of good bacteria) that may have found a way to cross over your acidic stomach acid or your saliva when chewing. That’s why a lot of your immune cells and protective bacteria are kept there. Another place where the immune system has a strong presence is in the lungs, another place where your blood comes in contact with the outer world.
Diet, stress and toxins all influence the colony of bacteria that are held in your gut. Knocking that balance of bacteria out of a favorable condition, means that you would be more susceptible to the common cold or flu. Not only by killing beneficial bacteria but also by causing damage to the gut lining which houses most of your immune cells.
Inflammation can also play a role in causing you to struggle to gain weight or to lose weight. When we hear nutritional advice, it’s usually reduced to: Eat less than you burn to lose weight, eat more than you burn to gain weight.
For people that have struggled with this problem, they know that it’s not that easy. There’s definitely something else at play. It’s hard for someone who goes to the gym so often and maintains a healthy calorie defect to believe that they’re barely losing any fat. Likewise for someone trying to gain weight.
For someone suffering from higher inflammation than normal, it makes sense to deal with that first. It’s a core indicator of fitness and something as seemingly unrelated as weight gain or weight loss capability is a great indicator.
By introducing anti-inflammatory foods and eliminating anything that causes you inflammation like stress, trans-fats, hidden food allergies, you can combat the nullifying effect of inflammation.
Being fit shouldn’t mean that you look fit enough to be a professional athlete. It should instead mean that you’re fit enough to handle life. Being fit means that you expect the most out of your mental and physical health to ensure that your life is lived to its fullest potential.
If you’re trying to aim for optimal fitness, there are a few tweaks you should continuously experiment with:
- Tweak your diet and pay attention to the small and large improvements you see from the small changes you make.
- Diversify and experiment with high intensity training to maintain a healthy level of inflammation and overall health.
The point is that appearance shouldn’t be the only indicator of fitness. You need to come to expect more out of your mental and physical performance.
Your diet and lifestyle should constantly be tweaked in search of better mood, energy level, focus and social interactions.
With some dietary additions and subtractions, added daily exercise and stress reduction, you will achieve fitness in the truest sense of the word.