Modern lifestyles in the developed world have afforded us considerable comfort and convenience. Many jobs have shifted away from tasks requiring physical involvement and towards the knowledge economy.
And along the way, more people have found it increasingly difficult to stay healthy and fit.
It’s fair to question what standards we’re being measured against. Some struggle to draw the line between functional health and subjective aesthetics of beauty. The influence of social media tends to exacerbate concerns regarding body image, and in response, there’s a growing call for more body-positive content.
While we needn’t suffer from pressure to achieve a sculpted, picture-perfect body, a healthy body image isn’t a license to let yourself go. We have to draw the line somewhere and find a way to stay acceptably healthy without making it an obsession.
In search of a target
Health is a complex concern. We’re all subject to a wide range of interacting factors that come together uniquely for each individual. For many people, the task can be made much simpler by giving them a concrete goal.
This is why the weighing scale has been our constant companion over the decades: it’s a simple and effective way to measure your progress towards a target weight.
Weight needs to be cross-referenced with height to gauge your body mass index (BMI), a more valuable measure of overall health. You can use an online calculator and compare your results against a chart to determine if you’re within the ideal body weight range for your height.
But BMI is simply a metric, and losing or gaining weight doesn’t mean you’ve lost or put on fat. Athletes can actually register as overweight on a scale but look and feel in peak physical condition because the weight comes from muscle.
Conversely, you could be within the ideal range but have a disproportionate amount of fat in the midsection, which is correlated with the risk of health complications and mortality. For this reason, other measurements like waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, or body fat percentage taken with calipers can prove more useful.
Looking at other factors
As long as you understand that BMI has its flaws and limitations, it can still prove useful. It gives you a well-defined goal to aim for without having to track a dozen other variables like professional athletes and their support teams do.
However, you’ll find that it still pays to know more about the other aspects of health.
Metabolism, for instance, is a key underlying mechanism when it comes to building muscle and losing fat. Yet our metabolism slows down at a rate that increases with each passing decade. Knowing this, you may want to adjust how you exercise and what sort of food you consume, depending on your age.
There are also lifestyle factors proven to affect health, and studies show the major ones are gender-related. These include a lack of physical activity, poor dietary habits, and tobacco and alcohol consumption.
While adult men tend to be more involved in recreational fitness activities, women tend to eat better and avoid harmful substances. Keeping this in mind can be a wake-up call for anyone to make the corresponding lifestyle changes, regardless of the numbers displayed on the weighing scale.
Maintaining the process
Beauty is subjective, and while it’s great to shake free of unrealistic standards of fitness and body image, the metrics are still valid for health goals.
If your goal is to achieve and maintain good physical health, there are no shortcuts. Targeted exercises and liposuction don’t work because the body consumes and distributes fat generally. And proven methods like fat freezing are only recommended for people who are already at or near their ideal body weight.
Merely falling within the ideal range doesn’t mean you can get away with a sedentary lifestyle or indulge in junk foods or harmful substances.
Use BMI as your target and commit to a level of physical activity, accompanied by a properly nutritious diet that will eventually get you there.
Your real objective should be to focus on the process. Make sure that you enjoy whatever exercises you’re doing, as well as the food you’re eating because that will keep you going even when results don’t seem apparent.
And once you’re within the healthy range, you can maintain that balance. Never mind if your arms aren’t toned or if there’s still some belly fat hiding your abs. What really matters is that you avoid the risk factors and don’t succumb to mistaken ideals of beauty and health.