Being Healthy Is Not Normal


The figure is inching upwards. 70 per cent of Americans are overweight or obese.

That’s seven out of ten people walking down the street, not excluding you. It will be three out of four in a decade.

Luckily for my health, I’m not quite American, I’m only Canadian. Canada, the land of fresh air and slightly smaller fountain drink sizes, is marginally better healthwise. Only six out of ten of us are above a healthy weight.

This means, statistically speaking, that in either country it is normal to be fat. I’m honestly not quite sure if I’m part of the four or the six. Either way, as I age, I’m edging toward the fat end.

I always thought I was one of the healthy ones, but just recently it’s dawned on me that I’m not, no matter which side of that 60/40 split I land on. I think most of us who consider ourselves to be of average health are much further from good health than we think.

Why is health the number one concern for so few of us? Why is it normal for everything else to be more important? Good health improves the quality of everything else: your working life, your outlook, your self-esteem, your energy levels, your confidence, and your ability to do just about everything.

I know some people are probably thinking, “Speak for yourself!” You run ten miles a day, eat a strict paleo-diet, do yoga on the beach at 5am and you never take elevators.

I admire you, but you are in a rather slim minority, and you can stop reading now if you like. This post is for everyone else — those of us who do buy vegetables but also have the not-quite-infrequent binge on wings or ice cream. Those of us who have to tell our host to take the bowl of cashews away. Those of us who detect in ourselves a secret joy when we realize we’ve forgotten to bring a lunch to work, and have “no choice” but to get drive-thru. Those of us who are steadily fulfilling the average adult’s fate of gaining one pound a year (maybe two) until we die.

For many of us, getting into good shape is a nagging “should” in our lives that we never really tackle. Life gets in the way. After all, you’re still in okay shape, aren’t you?

Are You Okay?

Just looked in the mirror.
Things aren’t looking so good;
I’m looking California,
And feeling Minnesota.
-Soundgarden, “Outshined”

I don’t know when it happened but I don’t look good naked anymore. Not to me anyway. But I’m not fat. Not really. Nobody would describe me as overweight. I’m still this, plus ten pounds, minus a bit of muscle.

I’m certainly not in poor health. I am able-bodied and I have nothing abnormal medically going on, as far as I know. Unless I’m unaware of something major, no doctor would say my state of health is anything but “good.”

I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with my turning 30 this Friday, but this week it struck me that while I don’t look all that different, I am feeling myself slow down, just a little. Year by year, some vital element inside me has been gradually deflating. I don’t believe numerical age means a whole lot, but even if it doesn’t, my physiological age seems to be deteriorating in lockstep alongside it.

As I said, this is normal. But maybe normal isn’t okay. Normal is five hours of TV a day. Normal is overweight. I think part of the reason I’ve excused my unhealthiness is because so many people are so much worse. I usually eat tofu sandwiches and a salad for dinner. But I eat some kind of fast food several times a week. Weekly, I drink alcohol “to excess” — like almost everyone else my age.

For years I thought I was safe, because I exercise. Don’t I? At least sometimes I do. I have been in good shape before. Kind of. I picked up my kettlebell not long ago at all. Thursday I think. Definitely better than those people who don’t exercise at all. I am totally better than them.

But better than bad is not necessarily good, and when unhealthy is normal, one has to be much, much sharper than normal in order to be genuinely healthy.

The messages I get from my surroundings are that I am healthy. Public service announcements tell us that if we just park at the opposite end of the parking lot and walk an extra 80 meters a day, we are adopting a healthier lifestyle.

For somebody living a morbidly sedentary lifestyle, this might be a dramatic increase in physical activity.

Question: How many parking-lot-lengths does it take to burn off a single KFC Double Down?

The answer is about 90. With large fries you can double that. Taking the stairs and walking across the car park doesn’t even begin to stop the bleeding for people neglecting their health.

I think many of us could stand to redefine “healthy” for ourselves. Even for a doctor to pronounce you anything but “perfectly healthy,” there has to be something conspicuously wrong. If you gain two pounds a year from here on in, your doctor might mention it in a decade or so, if there are no obvious complications from it. Only if your cholesterol, blood pressure or some other metric is out of whack, is your doctor likely to say you’re anything but healthy.

The Status Quo is Big Trouble

People of all ages read Raptitude, so each may be at a different stage in the game. You could interpret this article as something of a personal rant, but I’m posting it here because I know some of you are exactly where I am. You’ve drifted imperceptibly from high-school fresh to working-world stale. Your twenties are done, and youth is something you have to fight for now.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be rock hard. I want to be cut like Tyler Durden. And I am still young — as of right now peak health is well within reach. But this current course is not taking me there.

This isn’t a matter of vanity. I’ve let everything else in life become more important than achieving outstanding health. Health is life, and that’s no euphemism. I’ve let my health reach mediocre levels under the impression that I am healthy just because most North Americans are even worse.

Until recently, I was okay with maintaining the status quo with respect to my health. But when it comes to health, the status quo is atrocious. The status quo means I am deteriorating from here on in. It means I will never have more energy than I do now.

I don’t like that thought. It’s actually terrifying — in the mirror I can see what will happen if I don’t change course. I’m already starting to look like a paunch-bellied couch potato. I have a nearly unhideable spare tire now. And worst of all: in certain lighting scenarios, I can almost see a hint of man-boob action happening. Me with man boobs! No! This is not happening.

But it is happening. It’s happening because I have convinced myself that being normal, with respect to diet and exercise, is being healthy. In this country, and particularly in the country just south of me, normal is anything but healthy.

How important is your health to you? I’m not telling you what to do — I’m certainly no role model in this department, but I’m curious: if you haven’t made your health a primary concern in your life, why not?

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This post originally appeared on RAPTITUDE.COM.

image – The Pizza Review