04 Dec Guest Post: Could your fitness goals be damaging your health?
In today’s society, there is so much pressure on women and how they should look. We are bombarded with images through social media of what ideal fitness should be and should look like. If I were to ask you what was the first image to pop into your head when thinking of “female fitness” I bet I could tell you exactly what you were thinking. Would the description bronzed, ripped, posed and dressed in flashy activewear fit the general image you had in your mind? This is a completely skewed and misleading representation of what fitness is and should be. However, this is all we see on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms. I swear, if I see one more social media influencer holding a detox tea or nutritional supplement and telling me how it has “improved their lives” I may scream!
Let me dive into a bit of the physiology of how these fitness models achieve this “ideal” shape. There is a process where the body is essentially put into a state of starvation, where carbohydrates and fats are limited so the body becomes leaner. Then, just before the show or photoshoot, models will reduce their water intake to get into that final “cut” physique. This type of regime puts a huge amount of stress on the body, producing very high levels of the stress hormone called cortisol. Now cortisol is not a bad hormone, however, prolonged exposure can have detrimental effects on your physical health. It can decrease bone density and muscle mass, reduce gastrointestinal function, increase blood pressure, affect cognitive function, disturb sleep and the list goes on… So, we must see how putting our bodies through such a stressor could actually be hugely damaging to our health, and all this just to try and satisfy a media-driven ideal of fitness! Not to mention the countless hours, adjustments and photoshopping to get that perfect final shot that are never disclosed.
Fitness today is so heavily focused on the superficial aspect than the core aspect of why we need to exercise and train. We should be training for life’s adventures. We should be training to create a foundation of strength that is greater than our daily activities, so we may function with ease. Whether that is running a marathon, ascending Mount Everest or playing with your children, fitness should improve YOUR functional needs. Of course, fitness should also be about improving your general health: blood pressure, cardiovascular function, lowered cholesterol levels and improved brain function, alongside the many other benefits of exercise.
Despite this, many gyms still slap their marketing campaigns with statements such as “It’s almost summer, so time to get your bikini body ready!” or “Get lean/Tone up for summer!” Although losing weight can be beneficial for certain individuals, these quick-fix weight loss programs don’t really address what our body needs to establish optimal health. Some of the healthiest people I know would not be featured on the front cover of a fitness magazine… Is this the image we really want to portray to women? Campaigns like these are sending young women completely the wrong message about what health is, which can be hugely detrimental to their health and self-perception.
How we should instead be delivering the concept of fitness is to build a foundation for longevity. As a health practitioner, I must explain to my clients that one day we all get old, and we need to develop the building blocks to set us up for better functioning into the future. It is about maintaining mobility and strength into our later lives, not how fast we can shed 10 kilograms. This doesn’t mean, however, that if you are in the geriatric population that it is too late to improve your fitness! The benefits we see, and I have personally seen, when we exercise and train correctly include improved muscle mass, bone density, cardiovascular health, cognitive function, immune response and pain tolerance. A big one is also overall mood and satisfaction with one’s self.
Every person must start somewhere, and the best way forward is to initially identify a person’s deficiencies and movement pattern dysfunctions, then correct and build on these. Once this stage has been identified and handled, their fitness goals can then progress to the next stage and the complexity of the exercise goals increased. The fitness will come with correct training and exercise. Rather than undergoing “quick fix” weight loss programs, let’s help women build a foundation for better health now and into the future.