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Fitness - what actually is it?

With a husband who teaches PE and well - myself, who teaches Pilates - the topic of what fitness actually means is something that comes up quite a lot in our household.

But - if you can bear to read on, actually it's quite interesting how the word 'fitness' means different things to different people. (I said 'quite' interesting.)

Aside from the word 'fit' being used to describe people who, let's say, are easy on the eye, in the proper sense of the word it has two main meanings. Having done lots of debating in my time as a student in secondary school I now feel a compulsion to add two definitions for the word 'fit' as found on the online dictionary:

fit fɪt/adjective

1. of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose."the house was not fit for human habitation"synonyms:suitable, good enough;

2. in good health, especially because of regular physical exercise."my family keep fit by walking and cycling"synonyms:healthy, well, in good health;

I would hazard a guess that when most of us think of being fit, it is the second definition that we are thinking of. Unless you can run a certain distance, pump a certain weight, swim a certain number of lengths, or get your heart rate up to a certain number of beats per minute - then you should not have the honour of calling yourself fit. (You should certainly not have the honour - the holy grail if you like - of other people calling you fit either.)

Without discounting that idea of fitness, we want to introduce another, perhaps more important, idea of fitness, which is much more in tune with the first definition and more relevant to day to day living:

'Of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose.'

For the absolute majority of us, running 10km in under 30 minutes flat is not a necessity for our daily life. On the other side of the coin, flexing and then rotating your spine (i.e. oooh, what's on the bottom shelf of my very bare food cupboard that I can rustle up a meal with; nope, nothing - what about over on this side? Or the other side?!!!) is a necessary movement for most, if not all of us (as is turning our head from side to side with a good range of motion, squatting down to retrieve something we've dropped, climbing up and down stairs, taking your arm overhead to reach something from a shelf, carrying a sack of potatoes / child / heavy book / loved get the picture.) To put it another way, who is fitter? Someone who swims 5km every morning but puts their back out every other week by putting the rubbish out, or someone who accomplishes all the daily tasks they need to carry out with, in Pilates' own words 'spontaneous vigour and zest' AND can put the rubbish out (and any other necessary habitual task) without so much as a twinge?

For those of you who run / swim / weight train etc AND take time to look after your joints by maximising muscle length / strength and mobilising joints in all the planes in which they were designed to move - then you already know all of this. For those of you who know it but choose to forget to stretch or mobilise both pre and post exercise, then it may be worth bearing in mind if you want to continue your exercise regime into later life. And for those of you who don't do much physical activity - it could be worth trying to think about fitness in a new way. We are absolutely not discounting the need for some sort of cardiovascular exercise for overall physical health but please know that true fitness is much more about being able to do things that are necessary for you to do, or that you want to do, in a manner that is pain free and efficient and not just about training your body to achieve feats that are truly impressive but not necessarily functional for day to day living.

Now can you see why we spend many an evening discussing the concept of fitness in our household? Next week we're scheduling in some time to debate the best way to hit a tennis ball. If you find you're at a loose end, feel free to come and join in...

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