As a spin class instructor, I have conversations about fitness many times a week. I’ve noticed that we tend to describe fitness as a state or as an end goal — “I’m getting fit,” “That person is really fit,” or “I’m really out of shape.”
I wonder if our language and terminologies about “fitness” are unwittingly bewitching us? Objectively speaking, it is far more accurate to describe “fitness” as a spectrum or a continuum, rather than a state of being. No matter how “fit” you are, you could always technically be “fitter”. (And what does complete “unfitness” mean, exactly?) In other words, you can never really “get fit” in a literal sense — that is, you never cross a magical threshold and get a certificate of achievement that says, “Congratulations! You are now Officially Fit!”
I think the concept of adaptiveness makes a little more sense. Like all living creatures, the human body is a continually adapting organism: If you sit on the couch all day eating potato chips and Smarties, your body will adapt to these demands. If you run 5km every morning, your body will adapt to this demand instead.
Your body adapts to whatever you do in order to be fit for that purpose. The composition of your body is a case study in adaptation: it is remarkably well acclimated to whatever you do on a regular basis. At the cellular level, these adaptations are not necessarily positive or negative, your body has simply adapted to the demands placed on it. These might be demands to store excess caloric energy or demands to increase cardiovascular capacity and muscular strength.
Little by little, day by day, you are constantly undergoing this lifelong process. Your body is continually conforming itself to the world you inhabit, the activities you perform, and the diet you consume. Indeed, it is the essence of life itself to revise, modify, and conform to its particular situation. Adaptiveness is what it means to be alive. The big question is: what are you adapting to? One thing is for sure: you are adapting to something.
When people say they want to “get fit”, what they mean is that they want to adapt their bodies to a different environment or set of demands. But from this perspective, you can’t “get fit” in order to change the way you live — you have to change the way you live if you are adapt to something else. The psychological dimension between the brain and the body is a huge factor here: add an extra twenty pounds and your body reacts by infusing you with a lethargic attitude that prompts you to wallow in Candyland. But get accustomed to an exercise-induced endorphin rush and you’ll feel miserable if you don’t get your daily dose! You can never eliminate the reciprocal patterns of thinking that influence your behaviour — but you can significantly influence them. More precisely: you can only shape who you are by shaping the variables that you must adapt to. Therefore, “getting fit” is simply forcing your body to create new feedback loops of adaptation.
Therefore, I think adaptation might be a more holistic framework for thinking about health than chasing the idea of fitness. For instance, before every meal you might ask yourself, “Do I want a body that acclimatizes itself in order handle this kind of caloric load?” You might also ask yourself, “What kind of activities do I want a body adapted for?” As a human, you are in the unique position to take responsibility for the adaptive nature of your own body. As we said, it is not a question of if you will adapt, but rather a question of what you will be adapted for. It is a decision that you make over and over again, all day long.
I don’t really think of myself (or anyone else) as “fit” or “unfit” anymore. The label doesn’t seem that helpful. Or at least it seems very arbitrary. Instead, I think of us all as well-adapted to the lives we are living.
So the question is, what are you choosing to adapt to?