Fit for What?

Jul 10, 2022

Unless we’re talking about our bodies, and the amount of exercise they can do, we usually talk about being fit in relation to something. An object is ‘fit for use’, clothing is ‘fit to be worn at work’, and food is ‘fit to be eaten’. My parents used to have a running joke that they were fit – fit to drop! Everything else is fit ‘for something’. So why do we insist on describing ourselves as ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’ without relating the concepts to anything else?

It’s a basic truth that the human body wasn’t made to sit still for any length of time. We spent tens of thousands of years evolving in an environment that required us to move – to find shelter, to catch food, and to keep ourselves safe from predators. We’ve only been living lifestyles that allow us to be sedentary for the lesser part of a hundred years – not nearly enough time for evolution to adapt our bodies to this new environment. We see this constantly reflected in modern rates of heart disease, atherosclerosis, chronic aches and pains, and muscular and bone deterioration in people who have become inactive as they age.

On top of this, activity has a very real effect on both stress and energy levels. Our bodies have a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ way with energy – if we don’t constantly use and then replace energy (with activity, followed by rest and good nutrition), we start noticing our energy levels gradually draining away. We feel tired, lethargic, and as though any amount of effort is just too much to be worth it. And if we’re also under stress – for example, at work, or in a difficult relationship – we feel the energy loss and the stress even more intensely.

These are general principles that seem to be true whoever we are. But different lifestyles require different amounts of energy, and exact different prices in terms of stress. We enjoy doing, and our bodies are suited for, different kinds of activity. It makes sense then, that the amount and type of activity that will help us reach our optimum fitness, will be different.

If that’s the case, then getting ‘fit’ without a frame of reference seems like a meaningless concept. Unless we know what we want to be ‘fit for’ – what fitness means to us – there’s no reason for us to get or stay that way. If my life is basically calm, quiet and easy-flowing, and I’m quite happy to keep it that way, my ‘optimum fitness’ is going to be very different to someone who’s discovered a deep fulfillment in setting themselves a goal and achieving it. Someone who’d just like to go for a walk with friends without getting puffed is going to have a different optimum fitness level to someone who wants to discover how it feels to finish a marathon.

On top of this, what people want often changes over time. Perhaps at one point in your life, you enjoyed spending a couple of hours a day exercising, but now you’re finding there are things you’d like to do far more with that time. Alternatively, when you first started creating your optimum life for yourself, it might have been enough for you to just keep your body healthy. As you tried new activities though, you might have discovered you were actually enjoying some of them for their own sake, and wanting to get fitter so you could do more of them. So at different times in your life, you’d have a different optimum fitness level.

Which brings us back to our original question – can we talk about being fit, without knowing what exactly we’re ‘fit for’? The way we see it, your optimum fitness level depends completely on what you want to be able to do in your daily life, how you want to be feeling, how much energy you’d like to have and how exercise fits in with the rest of your life. So your first step in moving closer to optimum fitness needs to be to make that all-important decision “What do I want to be fit for?”