Exercise, Healthy living, Well-being

It’s not OK, I’m not ‘just fit’

Recently, whilst at a Nordic Walking class a fellow walker was commenting on how much the Nordic Walking was hurting their arms.  So we discussed why that might be.  Then they said ‘It’s OK for you, you’re fit’.

I suppose compared to the average person I am quite fit.  On the scale of fit people, I’d put myself towards the lower end.  But that’s not the bit that struck me.  It was the whole ‘It’s OK for you, you’re fit’.  Is that generally what people think – that fitter people are just fit?  Do they not realise the level of effort involved in being ‘just fit’?  Do they not understand the choices that fit people make on a daily basis?  There is no fit person I know that is ‘just fit’. I can’t imagine that there are many people who are and is this generally a myth that people believe, that some people find being fit and healthy an easy choice.

Taking myself as an example.  Everyday I try to complete some form of exercise.  Even if it’s a short walk and a bit of stretching, a short fitness class, or doing exercises from the physiotherapist.  Because that’s what I need to do to keep the pain at bay, to manage a prolapse, to keep my body moving as best it can as I mature.  I am (hopefully) doing the best that I can to enable me to continue to be fit and active for the next 20 years.  This does not come easy to me and it never has, I am not a natural athlete.  I would very much like to be able to sit all day and not have to bother with exercise.  But I must.  How I would love not to.  I also make choices everyday about what to eat and drink.  Again, these are not easy choices.  How I would love to eat as many crisps, chocolate, cake as I liked.  Or drink as much alcohol as I liked.  But I can’t.  It’s not good for my physical and mental health and impedes the exercise I need to do to keep me moving freely and keep my brain sane.  These are not easy choices.  They do not ‘just’ happen.  I am not ‘just fit’.  This is a daily commitment to my health and well-being. 

Walking in Clifton, Bristol.

During the past week I have carried out some very low-scale market research to find out if anyone would consider being fit to be an easy option.

Looking at my husband, he will be the first to admit that he is at the obese end of the weight scale.  But what people don’t see is he is currently at the lowest weight he has been for over 20 years.  What people also don’t see is the 12,000 steps he takes every day.  They don’t see the food choices he makes every day.  They don’t see the level of effort he puts in to make sure he doesn’t move further towards the obese end of the scale.  They make judgements based on his appearance and assume that he  must be fat and lazy – he is neither.  He is currently struggling with a problem with his hip which has impeded his ability to complete his steps.  This has been devastating for him, both mentally and physically.  Not being able to achieve his daily step count has knocked his mental health and he is becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to maintain what fitness he had.  Like me he makes daily choices around food, exercise and drink.  This does not ‘just’ happen.

For the last 6 months or so I have been doing online fitness sessions with Fitter Food Lover.  Slowly I have increased the weights that I use and am seeing improvements in my strength, fitness and general well-being.  I asked the personal trainer and other members of the group if they would consider being fit an easy choice.  Not one said that it was.  Each one makes a daily choice around diet and exercise and each one has their own reasons for doing so:  to maintain fitness and flexibility as they mature, to be fit and active parents to their family, to feel better about themselves generally.

I asked members of the Nordic Walking group that I belong to.  I even asked two women who had just finished a run and were heading to the café for a well earned cup of tea if they found being fit easy or enjoyable. It was a resounding ‘no’.

I also asked my sister if she would consider herself just fit.  She is a physiotherapist and works alongside Help the Aged running fitness groups for the elderly, enabling them to maintain their mobility, and therefore, their independence as they age.  She cited many reasons for maintaining fitness including building core strength and keeping your pelvic floor as healthy as it can be.  But no, she agreed that it’s not easy. It’s a choice people make and a commitment they make to themselves – to be the fittest version of themselves they can be – for as long as they can.

I asked each of these people five questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be ‘just fit’?
  2. Do you look forward to exercising?
  3. Do you enjoy exercise?
  4. Do you enjoy the benefits of exercise?
  5. Do you find any aspect of diet and fitness easy?

No one really considered themselves to be ‘just fit’.

Some did look forward to exercising.  Some less so.  Personally, I rarely look forward to exercise.  It’s always a challenge for me to drag myself to classes, to the swimming pool, or out for a walk. I would always choose staying at home and doing nothing.  It helps me if I know there are other people expecting me to turn up and it also helps if I have paid for the sessions in advance as that forces me to go along.

Most people said did enjoy the exercise once they got going and once they got there and that the biggest battle was getting to the class, or stepping out to run in the first place.

Everyone that I asked said they did enjoy the benefits of exercise.  They enjoyed the feeling that being fit and exercising gave them and it’s this that spurs them on.  Personally I love that when I have exercised I feel tired in a ‘worked hard’ sort of way and not a ‘lethargic about life’ kind of way.  I love the way I can feel my body toning up and that my core is getting stronger.  I love that I am able to manage my prolapse through exercise and haven’t, as yet, had to resort to other more invasive methods.  I like waking up having enough energy to make it through the day without having to have a ‘Nana Nap’.  I really enjoy not being in pain and want to maintain that for as long as I possibly can.

Nobody really found it easy.  Some found it easier than others, largely dependent on other commitments that they needed to fit around their exercise. Some found it easier the more consistent they were and if, for whatever reason, they had fallen off the exercise or diet wagon found it hard to get back up again.  I know that this is true for me.  The more consistent I am, the easier I do find exercising.  I also find it easier if I have a specific goal, which is why I tend to like a challenge of some kind. My personal trainer did say something which I found really interesting.  ‘If it was easy there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic.  It’s our nature as a species to conserve energy and take the easy route.  Our ancestors were fitter and healthier because they had to do things to get food.  Now all we need to do is press our phone screens and it’s there’.

I found this really thought provoking and it made me think about my own Grandmother.  She didn’t drive.  She lived a good 15 minute walk away from the nearest food shops.  She walked far more than I have ever had to in order to complete basic chores throughout the day.  The diet that she ate was generally healthier then the diets that people eat today and it took time for her to cook a meal every evening.  Fast food and convenience food didn’t exist – there was not alternative choice.  Even if I think about how things have changed during my life, I can see how much more I sit still every day than I did 20 years ago.  There is increasingly no real reason to move and so it’s even more important to create times in the day when you do.  This is not an easy choice.  I recently listened to an episode of ‘Happy Place‘ podcast where Rangan Chattergee raised the point that people who do choose to make healthy choices are increasingly considered outcasts, the ‘not-normal’, despite the proven benefits of a healthy diet and daily exercise.  Where along the line did it become unusual to live a healthy life-style? Or unusual to include exercise in our daily lives? We have more free time than our ancestors, so at which point did we choose to spend that time doing as little as possible? Apparently this is part of our genetic wiring, to conserve energy for when we need it. The problem is that nowadays we are conserving energy for a danger that we are unlikely to face and the consequence is a population that is becoming increasingly sedentary and finding exercise to be something for other, fit, people.

I concluded that being fit is a scale.  Some people are naturally more predisposed to exercise and have a natural talent for different types of exercise.  Some people do enjoy exercise more than others and find it easier to fit into their daily routine.  Some families are more exposed to exercise than others – and an active family will more than likely produce children who enjoy exercising, or taking part in team sports.  But I’m not sure than anyone would say that they find exercise easy, whatever their level of sporting prowess, nor would I say that anyone is ‘just fit’, it’s a daily choice they make to include fitness as a part of their lifestyle.  The one thing they would all have in common is the benefits and rewards they enjoy in return for the effort spent in exercising.  

Cycling in Albufeira, Portugal

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