aging · fitness

Why fitness really matters: Better movement from ages 58 to 97

Tracy and I often get asked by friends–mostly academic friends–why they should care about fitness and health. And mostly we agree that you don’t have to care. It’s not mandatory. It’s really okay to think this stuff really doesn’t matter so much. You do you. And we’ve written about healthism and the politics of respectability here.

That’s my usual approach to arguments about whether fitness really matters.

But but but..I do want to say that it matters for a wider range of reasons than you might think and that some of these reasons have a connection to feminism. And that even though you think you don’t have reasons to care, you might be wrong.

So hear me out, please, all the while knowing that I agree that you don’t have to care, that it’s okay to never set foot in a gym, walk except in the mall, or lift anything other than books.

I’m going to post soon about brain health and staying sharp but today I want to direct your attention to Mike Valenti’s video about the case for fitness. His argument isn’t geared at young people. He’s talking about staying strong as you age and why that matters. The independence argument should speak to feminists, I think.

Fitness isn’t just about young people and sexy abs though that’s the way it’s mostly marketed.

Instead, it’s also about maintaining strength and functional fitness as we age. And those reasons might be the most important ones.

This video begins by noting that many people end up in assisted living facilities because they can’t perform simple actions like getting themselves on and off the toilet. That’s functional fitness and that’s the real reason to do squats.

So even if you don’t care about getting stronger or faster for the sake of getting faster and stronger, you probably do care about staying in your own home as long as possible. Maybe you hate sports. That’s okay. But you probably don’t hate the idea of maintaining your independence as you age. Maybe you hate all the focus on the way women’s bodies look. I hear you. I hate that too. But you probably do care about moving without pain.

So you can care about fitness without caring about sexy abs.

Though I have a soft spot for sexy abs too.

(And actually visible abs aren’t my thing really. That requires a pretty low percentage body fat. But muscles? I like them lots. See my post Fear of frail for details.)



8 thoughts on “Why fitness really matters: Better movement from ages 58 to 97

  1. I agree! I think a lot of people tend to not think about these kind of things, until it happens – until they lose health or independency for example. And you don’t have to go all crazy to train for this, you don’t have to train like you’re part of the Olympics team. But taking good care of yourself and also maintaining it to prevent problems in the future, is actually a gift for yourself, although it shouldn’t be a gift but normal.

  2. I like this a lot. I would add too that there are lots of good ways to maintain physical fitness without joining a gym. Keeping the machine oiled and strong doesn’t have to take hours and hours a week doing stuff you hate to do.

  3. I love this post. Physical activity – and I don’t even mean playing sports or going to the gym, but just moving your body on a daily basis – is an essential part of maintaining a healthy body and mind. The evidence is pretty clear on this. Our bodies were made to move and to be used.

    That’s one way in which our current constructs of fitness – as something only for “jocks” or for people who are trying to fit conventional standards of attractiveness – does us all a great disservice.

    1. Yes! Growing up I thought I could either be smart and read lots of books or a jock who played all the team sports. Athletic pursuits that weren’t team sports didn’t occur to me and movement that wasn’t athletic wasn’t on my radar at all in high school.

      1. Same here! That sort of dualistic thinking really hurts people on both sides of the equation. I’m personally a fan of the whole classical ideal of the athlete-philosopher because it recognizes that one person can excel at cultivating both their bodies and minds instead of having to choose one or the other.

  4. I completely agree! I think it’s so important to take care of yourself so that you can function when you’re old. This doesn’t mean not eating biscuits and starving yourself. It means empowering yourself!

  5. Physical health and mental flexibility is best for us in the long run in living well, independently. And absolutely agree that being healthy doesn’t mean gym workout. Confession: I haven’t worked out in a gym ..for last 4 years. It’s incorporating naturally movement and mobility for a human distance for half an hr. at minimum at whatever time is convenient. It’s like breathing…you don’t think about doing it anymore…because you are.

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