approximate reading time: 5 minutes

1412013225_4474We as a people need to start thinking outside the box.

I feel I’m in a decent place to talk about this, since my client list for the last 4 to 5 years hasn’t comprised dominantly of 19 or 20 year old athletes. If you’ve read my blog articles or seen or heard my interviews, chances are you’ve heard me mention I enjoy going after clients who “need” training a bit more than they may “want” it. At this point, working with these folk has now made up more than half the time I’ve spent in this line of work.

See, I speculate that once you get older, you also develop the tendency get stuck in your ways. This tendency must become less and less reversible as time passes.  The trite responses and remarks you make to hackneyed tips and rules of thumb, have become a reality to you.  It’s really a matter of social influences, when you think about it. It’s the same reason to this day, that people grow up believing that if you crack your knuckles you’ll get arthritis, that swallowing your chewing gum takes 7 years to leave your system, and that squatting deep is bad for your knees.

Now we bring the focus to fitness, health, and nutrition.  I think fitness and health experts are as equally to blame as those who are out of shape when things like obesity rates are examined in western society.  The reason why, is because on large platforms, we’re forced to keep things as general as possible to make the masses understand their import.  But things get lost in translation.  When the human body is the subject in question, the sad truth is that 9 times out of 10 it does more harm than good to drop the specificity.  “Breaking stuff down” for the masses often results in oversimplifying important information, in which case the message gets lost.

That’s why I cringe every time I see public health ads that preach that 2.5 hours of “moderate to vigorous” aerobic activity is a recommended amount for an adult between 18 and 64 years old. Included under that category would be brisk walking, jogging, running, and cross country skiing. Also recommended is 2 days that include muscle and bone strengthening activities that could include running, lifting weights, yoga, and digging in the garden.

The key is that we’re promoting a healthier lifestyle to the masses, right?

Well that should come with a disclaimer. But that disclaimer’s too long to type out.

Without making this sound like some kind of a holier-than-thou dissertation, here’s the problem – as a whole, our society isn’t in the greatest physical condition because of the garbage we eat, and the low levels of physical activity we opt to do. I’m sure that the initiatives for public health don’t necessarily take the population’s fitness levels into consideration when creating these guidelines – at least not closely enough. Much rather, they model it after something else.

So what’s the prototype?

I’d assume a relatively healthy adult male or female (think of the classic 5’11”, 185lb ‘national average’ dude), who’s in line to maintain (or ever so slowly improve) those levels of fitness mediocrity. Nothing wrong with that – you know, other than the fact that the reality is far from it. The prototype should be a guy with a percentage of body fat higher than ideal, and a body weight that needs to change.

So for a guy like that, what would the above training parameters do for his health and fitness?

Not much.

For his ego?

Everything.

And I see it every waking hour.

I see it in the form of new clients who come to me and say that I need not include lower body training as part of their strength programming because they “walk to work”.

I see it in the form of clients relaying their doctor’s cue to stop resistance training, in order to avoid an injury.

I see it in the form of a feeling of accomplishment for being able to fit into a chart that supposedly passes the law on what you should weigh for your height.

Listen, if you can pass a sit-and-reach test, and have blood pressure and cholesterol readings that don’t straddle the lines of fatal, then I don’t consider you “in good shape”. I consider you alive. That’s about it.

You know, docs hold a lot more power than they may realize. Civilians treat anything that comes out of a doctor’s mouth as gospel (as they should, really), so when they hear they’ve passed their annual physical and they have no life-threatening ailments after they’ve had their rectums prodded, they take that to mean the lifestyle they’re leading is as good as gold for an in-shape individual. It’s reinforced when they hear national public health guides recommending the things I mentioned earlier for adequate exercise.  It’s good for something, but not good for much.

They're old. I get it. But would they look like this if they hadn't followed public guidelines for recommended exercise?

They’re old. I get it. But would they look like this if they hadn’t followed public guidelines for recommended exercise?

So the general public grows fatter and fatter as the years pass, and less and less in shape at the same time. Add to that the physiological effects of aging that we’re all trying to reverse – like a slower metabolism, decrease in bone density, and the 2 weekly hours of garden digging exercise is just a means to temporarily delay the inevitable.

I’m no nutrition guy, but the same thing can be said about national food guides. A “healthy” adult is encouraged to have a certain portion of all of the food groups. That includes grain and dairy products, meat, and fruits and vegetables.  The “prototype” question from above is fitting to ask once again. It may not be as threatening for a “healthy male” to take in gluten-filled grain products or dairy. But does that properly reflect the image of a typical western adult? I don’t know. You tell me.  Getting your 8 glasses of water per day is a good start, but when it gets to the place where 7 daily servings of grain, 3 daily servings of dairy and 3 daily servings of meat are recommended for intake, I raise an eyebrow.

And again, the misled mentality of the masses is made manifest in the thinking that simply not eating from fast food restaurants is the cure for an unhealthy diet, when in reality, it’s only one element of a healthy one. It’s presented to me when new clients say they “eat well”, but have a truckload of sugar and carbohydrates and around 1/5th the amount of protein they should be taking in daily. No, I’m not exaggerating.

It sucks, and I don’t blame the masses as much as I blame their information sources.  As a message to the general public, I’d have to say that the quantities and values outlined in the general guidelines for diet and exercise would need to be altered and adjusted in order for them to fit yourgoals of becoming healthier, fitter and in shape. Having the 4 food groups in their recommended quantities may be what’s accepted as a “balanced diet”, but it won’t promote much fat loss if you’ve got 15lbs of fat to cut off of your body. You will need to make changes to those values.

The same goes for the exercise.  A brisk walk and some tree planting for 2 hours weekly may marginally reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, but in my opinion, it’s not representative of the capacities of an “in shape” healthy adult. If a low-fat, able body is what you seek, you’ll benefit from challenging your muscles, heart and lungs more effectively when exercising.

The moral of the story is that it’s easy to look at your own health through rose-coloured glasses, but it doesn’t mean we should. The models we follow to pursue a healthy lifestyle are incredibly introductory, and fields of study and research surround fitness, health and exercise for a reason – because there’s more to it than what most are willing to learn.

I’m not saying that if you don’t join CrossFit or the Reserves that you’re wasting your time with this all. What I am saying is that there’s definitely a difference between “average” and “healthy”. And with the help of the oversimplified spread of info out there, those two adjectives have become confused. Take the time to learn from trusted sources, whether they come from books, journals, websites, or even skillful fitness experts you know personally, and you’ll get things started on the right foot towards a truly healthy lifestyle, along with the physical results to back it up.

Oh, and always try to find a doctor who trains.

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