In modern society, we are constantly bombarded with images of lean, muscular, well-built people to promote the concept of fitness. Marketers attempt to sell consumers on the dream that somehow their lives could be made better if only everyone looked like a fitness model.
But here’s a little secret about the models you see in magazines or the toned, muscular actors from a blockbuster movie: They don’t always look like that. Yes, some are in good shape all year long. However, just like bodybuilders train and diet to prepare for a contest, most fitness models and actors will work out and follow a nutrition plan to help improve their appearance before a photo shoot or filming a movie.
Haven’t you noticed that part of the human condition seems to be that even if we work out regularly and make smart nutrition choices, we are never 100 percent happy with our appearance? We can be our own worst critics. No matter how we look, we have thoughts like: I could lose a few more pounds, I need to add more muscle or I wish I had six-pack abs. There is nothing wrong with working out for aesthetic appearance, but if that is the only reason you work out, then chances are you may never be completely satisfied with the results.
Ability vs. appearance
The Oxford Dictionary defines fitness as: “The condition of being physically fit and healthy, an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment and being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”
The definition of fitness in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: “The quality or state of being fit. The capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms.”
What is missing from those definitions? Appearance. Most people identify changing their appearance as the primary motivation for starting and staying with a fitness program. However, being fit has nothing to do with appearance and instead has everything to do with improving your ability to live your life to its fullest. Rather than punishing yourself for not being able to look a certain way, follow these suggestions for how to shift your mindset by finding more important reasons to work out.
Seven ways to shift your fitness mindset
Achieve and maintain good health. The risk of developing a number of common diseases like onset diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and even dementia is much higher for people who do little-to-no physical training. Along with minimal amounts of exercise, unhealthy behaviors like eating calorically dense food with little to no nutritional value, poor hydration or a lack of quality sleep can increase the risk of developing a disease. Health care is extremely expensive. It’s better to invest your time and money in working out now to maintain good health as opposed to waiting until you develop a disease that could be expensive to treat and significantly reduce your quality of life.
Combine social time with workout time (or vice versa). Busy schedules full of demands from work or home or both means that you have little time for both fitness and a robust social life. Fitness enthusiasts of all ages are multitasking in an effort to combine workout time with social activities like participating in obstacle-course races, hashing (which can best be described as a drinking club that runs) or playing in adult sports leagues like Ultimate Frisbee, basketball, softball or rugby. Being fit can enhance your ability to participate in your favorite activities with friends or have the opportunity to find a new favorite activity.
Enhance your ability to enjoy your favorite sports. If you already participate in an adult sports league, do you want to play to get in shape or do you want to get in shape to play your favorite sport? There is nothing wrong if you get most of your movement playing in a recreational basketball league, but taking the time for regular strength training and metabolic conditioning can help you get in shape so that you have the energy and stamina to play your best while reducing the risk of developing an injury. Sports are a lot more fun and you can have a lower risk of injury if you take the time to properly condition yourself in between games or seasons.
Strengthen your self-sufficiency. Those of you who travel frequently know that it can be physically demanding to carry your bags while moving quickly through an airport, and that once you get on the plane, it can be difficult putting your stuff in the overhead compartment. For those of you who stay close to home, it can be a challenge to keep up with physically demanding tasks like mowing the lawn, caring for young children or elderly relatives, keeping the house clean and keeping the house properly supplied with healthy food for meals. Strength training can help improve your overall energy levels so that you can knock out your to-do list instead of having it knock you out.
Be a role model for your kids. If you have young children, then you probably spend a good amount of time in parks and at playgrounds. If your kids are a little older and playing organized sports, then you may frequently find yourself at various venues for practices and games. Instead of sitting on a bench checking your social media feeds or replying to emails, put the phone away and take the opportunity to engage your kids by playing with them. Kids are bundles of energy, and trying to keep up with them can be a challenge. However, regular training can help you to develop the strength, energy and physical ability to keep up with your kids. If your kids play sports, then you have an opportunity to model healthy behaviors by walking around the field or simply standing to watch. While it’s true that standing or walking may not get you in shape for the next Ironman Triathlon, even just a little bit of activity can help you burn more calories than simply remaining parked on your tailbone.
Talk to your kids about the health benefits of movement. When you’re playing together, inform your children that you’re being active because you want to be healthy, not because you’re unhappy with how you look. Teaching kids how to enjoy fitness for the health benefits can help them achieve and maintain good health well into the later years of their life span.
Consider all the other benefits from movement. Focusing on the many other outcomes that working out provides can help you shift your mindset so that you learn how to love the body you have instead of constantly judging your own appearance and emotionally beating yourself up for not looking a certain way. Apply the above definitions, and use movement to improve your fitness so that you have the energy and physical ability to do all the things that you want to do in life.
Photo credit: Melody Jacob, Unsplash