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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Every day deserves a workout

Sam Howzit, Flickr

Last week I found myself caught in a debate about weight, BMI, body fat and all those indicators of health. A friend complained that his BMI puts him in the "obese category", which he visibly thought was an exaggeration, as were the 30 pounds he "should" lose to fall into the upper end of the "healthy BMI" range. I asked him if he knew his body fat percentage, since it's another useful measurement in times of uncertainty. Again, he said that his BF % also indicates that he needs to get significantly leaner to be considered healthy.

The conversation then moved on to other, more subjective ways perhaps, to evaluate whether your weight is acceptable or not, i.e. healthy. Someone suggested that the best indicator of a healthy weight is whether or not you like the image you see in the mirror. I politely had to disagree. Instead, I suggested, you should base your evaluation on the way you feel when you walk upstairs, play with your kids, carry heavy grocery bags. I added: "and how you feel on scorching hot days".

Numbers, as accurate as the calculations may be, are only one side of the story. The way we see ourselves is no better. We are all biased toward our own appearance. Anorexia nervosa is a good example of people highly overestimating their size. It's also been said of obese people who go on to lose a lot of weight that they still consider themselves big afterward, as if it had somehow permeated their permanent identity, no matter how small they actually become. As for me, having been thin all my life, I did not even recognize the fact that I had become overweight after my second (and partly bed-rested) pregnancy. My identity was that of a thin woman, and the fact that I was now significantly bigger did not register until I actually lost the weight and looked at post-partum pictures of myself, a few years later.

I have been fit. I have been unfit. 1-2 years ago I was in the best shape of my life - I had a personal trainer, went to the gym 4 times a week on top of running (toward a half-marathon) another 4 times a week. Right now I am not at the top of my abilities (e.g. I could not run a half-marathon tomorrow), but fit I still am.

That is perfectly acceptable. Being in an elite athletic shape (which has never been my case) might not be sustainable full-time; even "real" athletes go through phases, as I discovered when I coached university level triathletes.

Being unfit, however, shouldn't be an option. As a teenager I remember thinking "I wish I don't ever become completely out of shape". That was before I realized that wishing (and hoping and thinking and praying) has absolutely nothing to do with fitness. Fitness is something you grab by the horns and never let go.

Even if you don't feel like it.

Even if you're too busy.

Even if you're too sore.

Even if you're too tired.

Even if you're too stressed.

Even if you're too depressed.

Or simply not in the mood.

Your mood has nothing, I repeat nothing to do with whether or not you should exercise. In fact, there is a very good chance that your mood (and everything else I just listed above) will improve once exercise becomes a habit.

Just go.

30 minutes suffice and you only need your body weight and comfortable clothes. You don't need to push yourself to intense pain or until you throw up, either. As long as you can feel your breath, heartbeat and sweating intensify, you're probably doing it right. Struggling to keep balance is also a sign that you're working on something meaningful:

Try doing this on a floating dock!

Do it. Every day. It's a gift you are giving yourself.

What are your main obstacles when it comes to exercising?
How do you overcome them?

For more on health, weight, and the accuracy of BMI measures, click here.


  1. Love this because I totally believe that every day should include some sort of activity/movement/exercise!!!

    1. You certainly are one of the best examples out there, Kim! :-)

  2. TIME.
    and so I just TAKE it and Ive stopped asking :-)

  3. Movement is so good .....

    All the best Jan

  4. I am always ready to move..even on my rest days you will usually find me planning walks or cycling trips or hikes...I doubt I can ever just sit around and I noticed this change in me only after I started getting healthier.

    1. That's wonderful! You are full of stamina! :-)

  5. Very motivating, Julie!

    I suppose I'm lucky, but my main obstacles to exercising are injuries, mostly from exercising.