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Healthy eating and exercise for life

Picture Perfect Fitness
Debunking Unrealistic Mental Images

 When you think of fitness, what images come to mind? Do you conjure likenesses of movie stars or professional athlete physiques? Is your mental image of a fit person a tiny, toned Barbie doll look-alike or a large, muscled jock?

The Face of Fitness

While fitness “looks” different on everyone, it is easy to get caught up in the model stereotypes and “gym fanatic” images of fitness -- the perfectly toned arms, washboard abs and strong legs we see on magazine covers and in movie theaters. Is this the ideal you keep in your head? Is this how you measure success of a healthy lifestyle? If so, this may be a lofty and potentially unhealthy image or goal. While those people may be fit and look like they are in wonderful shape, we do not have to look just like them in order to be considered “fit.” In fact, measuring ourselves against such a strict standard can be hurtful to personal self-esteem and feelings of self worth. Each person has his or her own “face” of fitness. Each one of us will take on a different look when we are in shape. For example, imagine a group of five people who all weigh the same, but have bodies that look very different – it’s a truth more common than you may think!

The Role of Genetics

“Fit” people take on many different shapes and sizes. Not all of them have model-perfect bodies. Some are taller or shorter, broader or more petite. We are all unique and we will have different body types due to our genetic makeup. Genetics help determine which muscles are more prominent or easily toned on our bodies. Genetics also help determine where excess fat will be stored on our bodies. Ever wonder why some people have the tiniest abs, but it seems the weight won’t budge from their hips or thighs? Then there are those whose legs and hips are toned, but who have the hardest time thinning down their midsection. We all have a different body type to start off with, so what makes us think we should all look the same when we have reached a certain level of fitness?

Measuring Fitness

Your mom always told you, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. With fitness, the same ideal rings true. While size and weight is a measure for health, it is not the entire picture. Cardiovascular fitness is an internal fitness level but you cannot see it by looking at a person. It is showcased by how strong your heart and lungs are, how healthy your veins and arteries are, and how efficiently oxygen can be transported throughout the body.
In addition, muscles can vary in strength from person to person, but may look like they are the same size from the outside. Some people who are in wonderful shape for a particular sport or activity may look larger outwardly than someone who is naturally thin, because a true measure of fitness is on the inside – how your body performs during activity, your resting heart rate, as well as other measurements. There are “model look-alikes” who cannot run or bike a mile, and there are larger people who have finished marathons.

Set a Goal and Keep it Real

Having a goal to work towards -- whether it’s losing weight, lowering your cholesterol or accomplishing a physical task you were previously unable to do – is a great way to motivate yourself to success. However, these goals should be realistic for you and should be created according to your own personal needs and uniqueness. Remember that you are given a healthy weight range according to your height and age. Those weighing in at the bottom and the top of this range are both considered a healthy weight, but may look different.

Set your standards high, but remember to keep things “real.” Having unrealistic goals can potentially lead to disappointment and discouragement instead of being proud of what you have accomplished. Change your mental image of fitness to include a healthy range of shapes and sizes. And don’t forget to take into consideration that all-important internal fitness level. Once you have healthier and more honest thoughts about your goals for fitness, it is easier to envision and then achieve a healthier you.