I’m an academic librarian so that means I look at a lot of research. One of the most important parts of research is the measurable outcome. Whatever you’re comparing, whatever you’re doing, its effect has to be measurable. If your results can’t be measured then they can’t be compared let alone duplicated by other researchers. What does this have to do with fitness? Quite a bit.
Data is king, but measuring wellbeing is hard
In research, data is king and outcomes that can be measured are usually taken more seriously than those that can’t. As an example, psychology is hard to measure because it’s so subjective. Neurology, the study of the brain, is easier because it talks about specific chemicals, their movements and concentrations. Health is VERY subjective, but there are ways to help measure it.
How do we measure health? We look at cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight, BMI, stress tests, blood sugar levels, fat percentage…. We do these things for two reasons – 1) as I said, data is king and researchers love to able to track it, and 2) because as highly evolved humans we totally suck at being able to gauge what’s going on in our own bodies – unless you’re really into meditation it’s probable that your mind-body connection is out of commission.
When I say that the numbers lie, I’m talking about the numbers available to you. The numbers the doctor get involve equipment you don’t have and knowledge you probably don’t possess – there’s whole textbooks on the interpretation of lab results. Cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, fat percentage absolutely matter – listen to your doctor if he or she tells you these numbers are not where they should be.
The number on the scale is not important. Your BMI is not important. Most competitive bodybuilders are considered obese when looking at these numbers alone. There’s other numbers that don’t matter. How much you can lift does not matter. How far you can run does not matter. Are these numbers impressive? Damn right they are! But does it matter that I can press a 30 pound kettlebell and you can only do 10 pounds? Not at all. Does it matter than I can barely squat a third of my bodyweight when a lot of people who have lifted as long as me are doing double or triple that? Not at all.
So… what is important?
What really matters? Your ability. That’s it. When it comes to your own personal physical fitness, the only thing that matters is the journey. I’ve read discussion board posts by people, especially women, who say that they were judged when they went to the gym because they weren’t up to the standards of other gym-goers. It doesn’t matter if you can only do 5 push-ups when someone else can do 50 because that’s 5 more than you could do a few weeks ago.
What matters is that you improve. Bit by bit. Day by day. You are getting better and your only competition should be who you were, your only goal is who you want to become.
Featured image courtesy of Mervyn Chua and used under a Creative Commons License.