What is your level of fitness? Consider your mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual health - how fit are you? My training did not actually focus on “health” until I first studied Classical Homeopathy over 20 years ago. I realized it was a concept lacking from my professional medical education and found it interesting to consider: how does one define health? At the time, the homeopathic definition derived from teachings of the contemporary Greek homeopath, George Vithoulkous, who defined health as freedom on all levels. Not necessarily the absence of disease or symptoms, but freedom from those symptoms. A recent patient of mine who lives in chronic pain told me she realized at some point the pain was inevitable: she could find happiness and freedom with the pain, or succumb to suffering. I am impressed by the freedom she enjoys despite her significant pain.
There is a great personal value for you to be derived from fitness, and in this series I am specifically talking about fitness that is both physical (whether you are currently an athlete or a couch potato!), and metabolic (that's your body fat, your fat distribution, and your lab tests). Paraphrasing the words of Ben Greenfield, a trainer and fitness specialist, a goal of improved fitness offers the chance to optimize your power/weight ratio.
The ability to exert greater power means that your muscles are well-nourished and know how to move and do some work. Until about the age of 30 most of us build muscle mass, which then starts deteriorating as we age. Without intentional intervention - in the form of good nutrition and an active lifestyle - our muscles will progressively atrophy and we develop “sarcopenia”, the degenerative loss of muscle mass, a condition significantly associated with frailty, premature illness, increased injuries and increased mortality. We want to keep our muscle mass and have it work for us.
On the bottom side of the ratio, we want to reduce that body weight (particularly abdominal fat) that impedes the activity of our muscles, and improve our metabolic markers on lab tests so that we keep inflammation at a minimum and can look optimistically toward a healthy future.
How to optimize muscle power and reduce abdominal and other fatty weight requires different strategies depending on your starting point. At the simplest level, people fall into one of three groups when considering how they are going to enhance their fitness.
Metabolically Challenged: You weigh more than you'd like to and you carry too much weight around your middle. One or both of the following is true:
- Your waist measures more than half your height
- You have elevated levels of fasting blood sugar, fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1C, triglycerides, hsCRP, fibrinogen, and/or elevated blood pressure.
- Weight Challenged: You weigh more than you'd like to, and you carry your weight well-distributed on your body. Your lab tests are normal.
- Strength Challenged: Your weight is normal, but you lack the strength of fit people your age. Your muscles are looking skinny, or perhaps just soft. You want to be stronger and more agile.
Each of these groups can remedy their situation, and I will address each one in a subsequent blog post. You can learn to exercise efficiently, with a minimal time and dollar investment, so that you improve your strenth. I'll focus on how you can lose fat, measured in inches lost from your waist, upper arms, and upper thighs, not focusing so much on pounds. If you drop belly fat, but gain muscular strength, your pants size will go down even if the scales don't.
The carrot at hand can include an improvement in your power to weight ratio, a longer and healthier life, better fitting clothes - even looking better without clothes!
The tiger at your heels, if you fall short of being metabolically fit, can nab you with increased cardiovascular disease, increased all causes of morbidity and mortality associated with loss of muscle mass, malignant, cardiovascular and inflammatory disease. Let's avoid that nip.
Next week I'll have some suggestions for the Metabolically Challenged! Let me know what you'd like to hear specifically about this topic, and whether you are more motivated by a carrot or a tiger (for a thoroughly unscientific study!)