Health Versus Fitness

Good health is a key component to a long life. Yet, in 2020 fitness is more often than not viewed through a lens of achieving physical appearance goals and not physical wellbeing. (let alone mental wellbeing)

Somewhere along the way between the wise words of 17th-century intellectual Leigh Hunt and the social media frenzy today with influencers and fitness brands on Instagram, TikTok and the likes, putting in an effort to maintain a healthy body and mind was ousted in favour of chiselled abs and well-defined gluteus maximus.

Developing and sustaining a fitness routine reduces risks such as heart disease, it brings positive change to our moods and acts as a soldier combating the complexities of anxiety and depression. Among, many other things. Committing to a lifestyle of being active, through fitness or otherwise, is one of the best ways to add years to your life.

The fitness industry, however, is something else entirely. Rarely do we encounter an industry so adept and willing to misinform and mislead to gain attention to ultimately benefit the bottom line. Fitness has become an industry built on a questionable foundation made up of narcissism, greed, and deeply rooted human insecurities.

On a daily basis, we get bombarded with gimmicks and contrivances that all offer the magical formula; your quick-fix solution to feeling better when looking at yourself in the mirror. You all know what I am talking about. The 21-day magical formula how to build your pecks or the 7-day abs challenge to sculpt beautiful abs. Often featuring a person who spent years achieving their physical appearance, most certainly not a quick fix.

It is frightening to think that the industry benefits so greatly by consciously avoiding to provide honest, sustainable methods for achieving long-term health through fitness.

They claim they help individuals build leaner, stronger, healthier and more capable bodies.

Yet gyms sell memberships hoping you’ll stay home, as this allows them to sell more memberships. Social media fitness content often optimise for what sells, to achieve clicks and views. A bandwagon of unqualified influencers charge hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros for online personal training. Why? Because they look good in a swimsuit or swim shorts.

On the other side of the industry, you find supplement providers that sell powders, pills and the likes with limited or no regulated oversight. Consumers none the wiser, buying them instead of learning about nutrition and eating Broccoli.

They claim to help people regain self-esteem and confidence in themselves.

Yet all we see are images of unsustainable, genetically “gifted”, and often photoshopped bodies that we are meant to aspire to look like. Bodies that took YEARS to build, and that oftentimes are even malnourished or overworked.

Many of them play on our insecurities, they target self-consciousness and fears. As strategic marketers, they use our own minds to manipulate emotions and in turn, buying behaviour. And, as far as we can tell they have but little hesitation in doing so.

An unattainable ideal set most individuals up for failure. In fact, it may even keep you from pursuing habits that are actually healthy in the first place. Why? Because it almost always tells you to opt for quick goals. Health is not a goal, it’s a process.

Basic important indices of health have been replaced by looks, which is counterintuitive. When people feel a level of stigma or even shame about their body, they are less likely, or have lowered motivation, to engage in physical activity.

The messaging needs to be replaced on focus on promoting healthy living and behaviours for all individuals. The physical appearance achieved, should be a positive byproduct only.

They claim to help people learn to understand what staying fit & healthy means.

Yet everywhere we look timeframes are assigned.

  • “Join this 5-week FAT SHREDDING challenge!”
  • “From the sofa to a 6 mile run in a month!”
  • “Build serious muscle with our 8-week MUSCLE FOR ALL program!”
  • “Lose 10 kilos in the first 30 days, or get your MONEY BACK!”

How you get the results, take a backseat to simply achieving them no matter what. Perpetuating unhealthy perceptions of body image is at the core of the messaging. Nobody cares that you become afraid to go near a carbohydrate or that you under-eat, without understanding the basics of nutrition. Nobody cares that mixing and matching of, potentially harmful, supplements is promoted.

The fitness industry is not in the business of empowering individuals to become healthy by taking care of themselves. Like with everything in life, there are positive exceptions.

The bottom line is: we must need them. They need us, to need them. After all, it’s us “normal people” who end up paying inflated prices and/or supporting them with precious validation on social media.

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