Sussex Performance Centre

This Year We Are Going To Get Fitness Right.

A lot of what we’ve been taught about fitness is actually diet culture wrapped in lycra. 

Scientists have known for decades that working out is only one part of the solution to losing weight, and yet, the same demand comes every January: time to make a plan for diet and exercise, to lose weight.

Even when you set aside the weight thing, as increasingly many of us are trying to do, a strange focus remains at the center of how we tend to dissect exercise, particularly in the media: 

There is this idea that you can control your body through exercise—make it work better, make it last longer. You can start “bouncing your way to better health” by participating in a trampoline class. You ought to take lessons from astronaut’s workout routines because, researchers explain, “long hours of sitting are not dissimilar, physiologically, to floating in space.” One recent paper suggests a connection between workout intensity and memory; another between working out and immunity.

What is healthism?

This view of exercise might be best understood as “healthism,” a term coined decades ago by sociologist Robert Crawford. “The past few years have witnessed an exercise and running explosion,” Crawford wrote in a 1980 paper titled “Healthism and the Medicalization of Everyday Life,” pointing to the proliferation of health magazines, and “health themes” in newspapers. 

The idea is that we as individuals are held responsible for the health of our bodies, rather than health being a product of our larger environments, or say, the actual medical care we receive. We must improve ourselves through self care, fruits and vegetables, vitamins, and physical activity. And today, we have available to us constant information on the latest studies as well as consumer technology to help us “improve” our bodies. 

Armed with a relatively inexpensive tracker, the ordinary jogger can become a data scientist of their own leisure habit … and then is left to interpret the meaning  of so many numbers. With arm patches that monitor contents of our blood, even non-diabetics can track how our insulin levels respond to food and exercise in real time, though what the optimal fluctuations are for a healthy person is an open question. Exercise scientists, meanwhile, are working to figure out the perfect “dose” of movement, as though movement is another pill we can and should be taking.

There is in health media an ouroboros: the flawed pieces of news, the articles debunking the bad or dated or limited science. 

Take the idea that we should walk 10,000 steps a day, for example. The concept, according to Harvard Medical School researcher I-Min Lee, originated in 1965 in Japan with a pedometer designed to count—you guessed it—10,000 steps. It’s “an easy goal to remember,” Lee told Popular Science. But ultimately the number is just a marketing gimmick. There are dozens if not infinite stories explaining the problems with the 10,000 step rule, some arguing in favor of it,  other pieces explaining that, well, 10,000 steps isn’t the answer, but—a 2022 JAMA paper suggests!—maybe 7,000 steps is. 

We must keep up with the churn of information about how exercise affects our bodies, and how we can keep doing it better, the news says. 

It can be easy to miss the fact that we actually understand the core basics of exercise very well, in the same way that we understand the basics of good nutrition. 

Just as we all know that we are indeed supposed to eat vegetables, everyone knows that you should move.The interesting part is in the execution: How do we do this, pleasurably and sustainably? What are we trying to achieve with it? 

Where it gets so complicated is when we try to make exercise the key to a million other goals—a better brain, a better body, a smaller body, a body that will live longer—the list goes on and on. We are interested in figuring out how we can make things simpler for ourselves—and how to use science and technology as tools that actually help, rather than muddle.

The back and forth between information makes it easy to forget the best part of exercise, which is that, yes, it makes you feel good. 

And maybe even more than that, it can be fun. Even if running or weight lifting or swimming isn’t always a total joy in the moment, the net improvement of exercising in your life isn’t just that you become a different shape, or a well-oiled machine. It should be that you feel better. Not as confirmed by metrics, heart rate, your shape, or even your top speed, but simply for you.

But most of all we’re going to seek to answer the question: which aspects of moving in 2023 make our lives better? Not thinner, not longer, not even healthier—just good.

This article was taken from


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