“I wanted six pac abs, so I did 800 crunches daily”, said to me a 30 something year old, lets call him Mr. IT PROFESSIONAL, who now had undergone back surgery for a slipped disc. I asked him, why he wanted a six pac? He said “to become fit”. I followed it up with a question “to become fit or to look fit?“, as both meant different things. He couldn’t answer. He admitted to never giving it a thought. He did what he was told by his instructor in his gym.
This conversation rang alarm bells in my head. Do we understand what fitness is? The curious me did a google search of the term “fit men”. Every image on the result page was a man with a chiseled body and a stunning six pac. The media today has forced us to believe that unless you have big bulging biceps, ripped pectorals and the mandatory six pac (eight pacs gives you God status), you are not “fit”. Nothing can be further away from the truth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical fitness is defined as ‘the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.’ If we go by this definition, fitness involves everything from getting out of bed to going to office to performing house hold chores. In simple terms it means that, if YOU are able to perform YOUR daily routine, without unusual tiredness and most importantly WITHOUT INJURIES, you are FIT.
Lets go back to Mr IT PROFESSIONAL. His daily routine is waking up, driving to work, sitting in front of a PC for hours at end and then back home. The most strenuous activity that he indulges in is picking up bags when at the grocery. Now why does someone with a routine like this needs to do 800 crunches, 100 squats with weights on his shoulder etc etc? Problem here was on two fronts. Mr. IT PROFESSIONAL wanted to exercise (good), but, had no idea what his goal should be (bad). He allowed someone else (gym trainer) to decide his goals for him. We cannot blame the gym trainer too.
In India, broadly, only two types of people go to the gym. One who want to look fit, others who want to lose weight. These people constitute about 90% of the gym going population. Its only a small minority of people who exercise regularly to keep the body healthy. So remember this; physical fitness is always very specific and individualistic. General guidelines may be applied, your fitness goals should be decided by you, for you. Let your gym instructor guide you on the path to your goal, but never let him/her decide your goal.
We are a cricket and Bollywood crazed nation. So let me cite some examples from the world of cricket to illustrate the point of fitness being individualistic. India’s most successful test bowler and without doubt the best all rounder we ever produced is Kapil Dev. Over 15 years of international cricket, around 600 international wickets, but believe it or not, he did not miss a single match, test or ODI because of an injury. Out of a total of 131 tests, he played 65 non-stop, missed one and then played another 66 without break. The one that he missed was on disciplinary grounds. Look at Kapil’s pictures from back in the day. He physique no where close to what an international athlete is presumed to look today. But yet, he excelled at what he did. Compare that to some the modern day cricketers of our team today, spend hours in the gym, have a chiseled body but if they sneeze real hard and are ruled out for months together. Ditto is the example of Pakistani batsman Inzamam ul Haq (around 20,000 international runs), Sri Lankan Arjuna Ranatunga (world cup winning captain), Clive Lloyd (double world cup winning captain); none of them “looked like” professional athletes, but were world beaters in their own right.
Football lovers will remember a slightly pot bellied Maradona weaving in and out of defenders at will. Contrast this with some of our “fit looking” Bollywood celebs. A handsome heart throb of the 80’s with a perfect torso has had multiple surgeries on his back. A dancing legend with abs to die for has a recurring back problem, which by his own admission caused him bouts of depression. An actress advertising everything healthy, from biscuits to juices, struggles with arthritic knees. Lets get to the point here. Are the cricketers mentioned here fit? Are the Bollywood celebs fit? Well, YES, both are fit. If you ask who is fitter? Well, that’s like comparing apples and oranges. As long as they are able to fulfill their duties and responsibilities to their professional and personal lives, they are fit. The notion that only people who look a certain way are fit should be totally discarded as it holds no water.
So if you are a housewife doing her daily chores or a working woman juggling home and office work; wether you are like Mr. IT PROFESSIONAL or an athlete; a proud owner of a six pac or one flaunting a family pac at the waist, your fitness needs to be evaluated based on your needs.
Fitness is about how well you do your daily activities, not how good you look when you are doing them.
Pic Credit: Wiki
Writer is Dr. Manoj Hegde (PT), a practicing physiotherapist for the past six years. Completed his graduation in 2010 from Sikkim-Manipal University after which he went on to attain a Fellowship in Orthopaedic and Sports Rehab in Mumbai. He is also a certified clinical nutritionist from American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). In 2013, he founded HELP, a physiotherapy and sports rehab centre in collaboration with Association for Research in Homoeopathy, Airoli, Navi Mumbai. He specialises in management of a variety of orthopaedic conditions, pre and post op cases, athlete training and injury management, weight and lifestyle management.