Why fitness is more important than weight | Leanne Spencer | TEDxWandsworth


Translator: Emma Gon
Reviewer: Denise RQ A 2012 study found that the average British woman spends
17 years of her life on a diet – 17 years. A 2013 study by the National Institute
of Health Research found that 25% of 13-year-old girls regularly skip meals
to maintain a thin appearance. And if you thought 13
was young to be on a diet, a study by the Professional Association
of Childcare in Early Years found that children as young as three
expressed dissatisfaction and concern with their appearance and their body. Our mirrors are ruining our lives
and that of our children and that has to stop now. Let me share with you a little story. A few months ago, I went to see a show called Circa
on London South Bank. It featured six acrobats, male and female, and they performed for about 75 minutes, and during the show, you witnessed the most incredible feats
of athleticism, strength and bravery. And when the show had finished,
something struck me and it actually has nothing to do
with the stunts I’ve just witnessed. It has to do with the acrobats physiques. Some of them were outwardly muscular. Some of them have a layer
of fat over their abdominals. And some of them even have
puppy fat on their inner thighs. All very ordinary stuff,
but from people doing the most extraordinary things. And it struck me then,
that we’ve got things wrong. For many of us, the pursuit
of a perfect body means we’ve forgotten about
what is really important and that’s the health of
our body on the inside. We praise people for
their skinny appearance ignoring the fact that potentially they’ve got there through
a very unhealthy and restricted diet. What if we move our focus to what we can achieve with our bodies rather than what they look like? What if we move the focus
from fatness to fitness? Good physical fitness is
important for many reasons, we know this. It can protect against injury and strengthen our immune system. It also means we can play sport, take part in daily
activities with our kids and socialize in a really healthy setting. It also makes every day things easier like shopping, taking the stairs, walking. And not only do those
everyday things become easier, but we feel stronger and
better equipped to try new things. And that’s partly because
exercise can be very enjoyable, but it can also take you
into your discomfort zone. And I think that’s a healthy
place to be sometimes. I personally take myself
into that discomfort zone in a big way, three or four times a year. Because I think it makes me more mentally, physically
and emotionally resilient. When I became very fit, my world literally expanded. And that’s partly because I use exercise to help me through a very dark
and difficult time in my life. In March 2012,
I was treated for alcoholism. And exercise became a very corner stone of my successful recovery. Instead of drinking
bottles of wine every night, I used exercise to change
how I felt about myself. So I could not overstate the power that fitness and exercise
have for building resilience, but also changing how you feel
about yourself and the world in a really healthy way. And while I am here, let me debunk a few myths about exercise. The first one is that you need
a long time to exercise effectively. Simply not true. A 15 minutes high intensity or
heat workout is really effective. As it is a 20 to 30 minutes
faster cardiac session. So a run before breakfast may be. It’s more about the intensity
and the quality of your exercise and much less about the duration. Another myth is that you need access
to a gym or expensive gym equipment. And again, not true. Parkrun is hugely popular in the UK. For those of you
who haven’t heard about parkrun, it’s a 5 km run that takes place
all over the country in parks and it’s entirely free to sign up for. It’s also very possible
to do effective workout in your hotel room or at home using only your own body weight
or furniture as props. And let us not forget our daily commute, consider walking whenever you can. It may takes a while
to get your head around, but it requires approximately the same number of calories
to travel one mile on foot, irrespective of your speed. So in other words, you burn roughly the same number of calories,
when you walk or run. But the efficiency, of course, comes in how quickly you get to your destination. So walking is a great way
to strengthen your bones and joints, maintain good heart health
and burn calories. So what’s not to love? And yes, let us talk about fat. We are obsessed with it. Avoiding fat in our food
avoiding fat in general. Fat, we are told, is bad. And indeed too much fat is bad. It can cause metabolic conditions
and poor heart health. And obesity affects 1 in 4 children and 1 in 3 adults in this country. So too much fat is
definitively a bad thing. But how we measure body fat
has come into dispute. BMI which is a very popular method isn’t as accurate as you might think. And its correlation with body fat can depend on your age,
your race and your gender. So it’s very possible to be slightly obese by these generic standards and still very fit. And I’m arguing that might
not be such a problem. While subcutaneous fat or excess of it particularly around the middle can be damaging to our health, what is more damaging
is the lack of fitness. We need a certain amount of
body fat in order to be healthy. Studies have shown that people
who have that healthy amount of body fat have greater life expectancies
than those who don’t. Now I’m not suggesting we ignore the global epidemic which is
the obesity crisis across the world. And I’m not saying
it doesn’t need actioning because it does and now. But what I’m suggesting is that rather than
obsessing over our scales, we worry more about
how we control our weight. Are we depriving our body
of valuable nutrients or even the pleasure of food simply to avoid being more active? After all it is physical activity that helps us to prevent
cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even health systemic
conditions like Alzheimer. So I think we need to move our focus from fatness to fitness. Because it’s a lack of fitness that is damaging
our children’s health and ours. And let us just take a minute to consider the legacy
we are leaving for children here. The stats are woeful. A recent study found that children between 5 and 7 do an average of 102 minute
of PE a week in the schools – 102 minutes. The NHS on its official website recommends that children between 5 and 18 do 16 minutes per day of exercise. And let us face it, we all know how to get out
of our PE at school, right? I didn’t think it was just me. A quick note faked by mom
and you are off the hook. Another problem is space. Where I live in south London, there are very few green spaces for children to play in their schools, the playgrounds of concrete
and spaces are cramped. It’s getting harder and harder
for kids to move in schools now. And I’m worried
because that’s a problem. If they can’t feel what is like
to be fitted in a young age, it’s going to be very hard for them to make a pattern of
their behavior growing up. An unfit child is a lot more
likely to be an unfit adult. And an overweight child is much
more likely to be an overweight adult. And another problem, I think,
we need more role models in sport for kids to look up to. They can’t be it, if they can’t see it. The Olympics were helpful, but the messages contradictory. In the Rio Olympics,
many male commentators were more interested in making stereotypical and unhelpful remarks
about women’s physiques than they were commentating
of their performances, their strength and their stamina. One NBC commentator
was overheard to say the US Women Gymnastics Team looks like they stood about
in a mall during their team final. But our roll models don’t just
need to be TV celebrities, sports people or famous people, they can be anyone of us. As parents, teachers,
aunts, uncles, neighbors, we all have a responsibility
to prioritize our fitness, so that young kids can do the same. Studies have shown in fact that children whose parents are fitter themselves have greater level of fitness that children who don’t. So I think we need to change
our perspective on our bodies and put our priority not on
appearances but on functional fitness. Body image problems has been endemic for women for too long a time. But this is a problem
that affects boys and men, too. While young girls tent
to externalize their negative thoughts and strive for a thinner appearance, young boys tend to internalize
their negative thoughts and strive for a
more outwardly muscular look. And stats show that young boys are increasingly turning to steroids
in order to get that bulky look. Whereas young girls
tend to emulate celebrity who themselves are
airbrushed to look perfect or starving themselves to look thin. This isn’t about men or women, it’s about all of us. Too many of us have a warped
and distorted view on how we look, which is fed into by
the advertising industry, the media, the fashion world and, of course, the multi-billion
pound weight loss industry. We need to be much less critical
of ourselves and of others. And instead of making our goal a perfect body or a perfect dress size
or whatever that means, it should be about getting more active. Let us reconnect with
our bodies in a primeval way and make fitness
something that we all do because of how it makes us feel. Perfect doesn’t exist, but happy and healthy does. Thank you. (Applause)

16 Comments

  1. Awesome talk, Leanne. Great to see you spreading the word.

  2. woow awesome

  3. Great talk! This could also be applied to men using steroids. At its core the issue is the same; putting aesthetics before good health.

  4. Really great talk & so important (especially for the younger generation) – too many people are chasing physical perfection which is unachievable & is likely to end up in a very unhealthy lifestyle.

  5. Excellent talk highlighting the importance of keeping fit and healthy, as opposed to being obsessed with body image. Leanne emphasises that the focus should be on keeping one's body healthy and fit rather than striving for an unachievable body shape.

  6. PTSA in every school (public and private) can get 30 minutes of fitness exercise each day
    with option of yoga/mindfulness every other day to change the health of a nation.

  7. Kids can't go outside, its not safe.

  8. Very powerful message. Brilliantly delivered!

  9. Brilliant talk thanks Leanne! Absolutely agree 100% Let's all focus on staying healthy and happy rather than skinny being the ideal. Love that work you're doing in shifting paradigms and your de-bunking myths. Keep it up!

  10. We should stop exercising and start moving, and quit stressing over meaningless numbers.

  11. Awesome talk

  12. Well said fit and healthy happy that’s true.

  13. This is a concept that will not meet well with Americans. For instance… We buy our cars on looks alone. This is why carmakers like GM and Cadillac are selling like hotcakes. Worst, most unreliable, on average, cars ever made in America came from those 2 companies, which are really the same company. Yet Americans slurp them up like a super sweet, sugarfied kale shake. [smh]

  14. lots of holy people will tell you what inside that counts, but at the end of the day 99.9999% of people WILL still look and judge base on your skin.

  15. Brilliant Leanne, thank you…

  16. well said, i'm on it!!…. its only took me 48 years but i feel better than i ever have just after 3 weeks daily walk/running, best thing is i know i can feel even better the sky's the limit now

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