With summer on the horizon, many folks may feel compelled to take stock of their weight and fitness due to the looming threat of hot weather attire. But while impending trips to the beach might motivate you to be more disciplined, appearance can't be the only priority when it comes to working out. Body image (especially for women) is a complicated topic that requires a nuanced discussion. Hence, we must focus on healthy lifestyles as opposed to simply obsessing over looks. First Lady Michelle Obama launched the uber successful Let’s Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity and it’s time the rest of us followed her lead…we need a Let’s Move! campaign for grownups.
The Washington Post (in yet another profile on Black women as an unknown species requiring close study) recently wrote about a survey of Black women, body image and self esteem, which found that many more Black women have more positive perceptions of their bodies than women of other races. According to the study, Black women on average are heavier than White women and yet do not feel the same pressure to reach any “standard” of beauty or clothing size set by popular culture. This is a direct reflection our people's unique views on beauty and sex appeal.
But what was lacking from the report is a conversation about health. Our high instances of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are not mentioned until nearly the end of the article. And that really is heart of the matter (pun intended): the idea that how you feel about your body in relation to what size you are shouldn’t trump the conversation about how you feel about your body because of how you literally feel. The conversation should include ways in which we should be reducing the rate of cancers, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes by preventing these diseases before they happen. Diet and exercise are the ways you proactively do that.
Let’s Move! focuses on reducing the rates of childhood obesity by encouraging an increase in physical activity and smarter food choices. Adults should be on the same plan. If anything we need to make it even more of a focus because as we get older we have less time to self correct. It’s much easier to prevent certain illnesses than to treat them after the fact and greater attention to what we eat and how we move can support that.
A healthy lifestyle can start small. It can start with 10 minutes a day of physical activity. You shouldn’t start with a diet and exercise plan that is such a dramatic shift from your current lifestyle that it cannot be maintained long term. If you aren’t working out at all now then begin gradually including physical activity in your normal routine. Any plan needs to also be able to be shaped for your lifestyle, taking work, family, school and other obligations into account. No matter what size you are or want to be, everyone should aim to be active and doing activities that increase your heart rate: walking, running, biking, dancing, or anything else that makes you happy and breaks a sweat.
The women profiled in The Washington Post survey are absolutely right about one thing: exercise ensures you will live a more fulfilled life because it allows you to be in a better mood, a better space, and it allows for increased productivity. Remember: there is no time like the present to live your best adult life and in order to do so, health and fitness must be part of the equation.