It’s unfortunate that fitness is primarily associated with appearance nowadays.
I’m not saying that vanity is bad or negatively judging anyone who wants to change their body. I think by focusing on how we want exercise to make us look, we lose track of the real value of fitness: what it can allow us to do. Which is basically everything.
The only reason any of us can do anything at all is because we have these crazy mash-ups of flesh and blood and bones and chemicals and bioelectric currents that we call our bodies.
The better we prepare our bodies, the more things we can do. The more things we can do, the more freedom we have. Freedom to do the things we love, sure, but also freedom to perform the simple tasks that allow us to remain self-sufficient as we get older.
Therefore the value that we place on a given exercise or program should have more to do with how it helps us to preserve our body’s functionality, and less to do with whether or not it’s going to help us look like super models.
Incase you missed it, I support you to improve your appearance through exercise and weight-loss. Once again, vanity is not the problem here.
The problem is when your primary (or perhaps even sole) motivation for exercise is a feeling of disatisfaction with your appearance. We can’t separate our bodies from who we are. If we’re disatisfied with our body because of the way it looks, we become disatisfied with ourselves on a much deeper level.
We all understand that the more we value something, the more motivated we are to take care of it. This is a very potent double-edged sword, because the reverse is also true. The less we value something (ie, ourselves) the less likely we are to take proper care of it.
The hard, harsh reality is that one way or another, eventually we’re all going to look worse than we do right now. When that does happen to your appearance, will you still be self-sufficient and capable with your body or will you depend on others to care for you?
I can see this in my parents, both of whom are approaching 70. They’re not in terrible shape, but it’s still weird to witness the gradual decline of their physical bodies and the limitations that have slowly begun to creep into their daily lives. For me, seeing this really highlights the importance of cultivating a more balanced approach to one’s goals at the gym.
Training to me is not just be about keeping my body in shape, but about learning how to use it properly in order to reduce wear and tear and get the most mileage out of it. It’s about taking care of myself and keeping myself healthy, but it’s also about learning all the awesome things that my body is capable of accomplishing.
That doesn’t stop me from caring about the way I look, and from enjoying the superficial benefits that can come from working out. But when looks inevitably fade away, I’m still going to want to be able to push, pull, jump, run, squat, climb, and everything else for as long as possible!