Let’s look at some facts.
- Adult obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years. Now 22% of Britons are obese and three-quarters are overweight.
- Over 30,000 deaths a year are caused by obesity in England alone. A study by the National Audit Office in 2002 estimated the condition costs the NHS £500 million a year. The overall cost to the country is estimated at up to £7.4 billion a year.
But obesity is dramatic and surely not seen as being the ideal. I guess for some people stick insect thin is the body shape held in high regard.
- Women are more likely than men to have anorexia - about 90 per cent of those affected are female.
- It's estimated about three or four people in every 100 have anorexia.
However the flip side of these two extremes, being ‘in shape’ or athletic, seems to hold just as many negative connotations particularly for women. Since this blog has mostly been about bouldering, I’ll use it as an example. In a review on UK Climbing of the UK’s top boulderers in 2007 there was no mention of any women. Since the article was published the UK has witnessed a few stellar female achievements in bouldering, but it is still far off from the numbers of notable male ascents. According to Momentum Video Magazine "to date 12 women have climbed routes rated 5.14b or harder". Has anybody even thought to count how many men have?
Maybe it’s time that we started to re-think our definition of ‘fit’. Why does the world look negatively on strong athletic women and label them as ‘man-ish’.
- Weight bearing exercise and the subsequent increase in muscle tissue is instrumental for preventing osteoporosis.
- Muscle burns more calories at rest than any other tissue. For every extra pound of muscle you put on, your body uses around 50 extra calories a day.
- Recent research has shown that weight (or resistance) training can greatly reduce a number of health risks. It has been proven to have a positive effect on insulin resistance, resting metabolism, blood pressure, body fat and gastrointestinal transit time, factors that are linked to illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
You don’t need to be as extreme as Arnold to reap the benefits, indeed it is very difficult for women to put on a lot of muscle mass due to lacking testosterone in large quantities, so why are many women still afraid of putting on a little muscle. I suspect this sad state has to do with people’s perceptions. Attitudes like ‘women should be girly and cute, not strong and powerful’ don’t exactly help the situation.
Well the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
I never thought I had an athletic bone in my body (some would argue that I still don’t). I played a few sports when I was young, but nothing seriously. I never thought I could be strong and so I never sought to be. A few years ago I started climbing. I climbed because I loved it. A by-product of this was putting on muscle. After years of going to the gym and seeing no results other than increased aerobic capacity, I never thought this was a possibility. But sure enough, shirts became tighter around the top of my arm and on my back, eventually my tendons grew thicker and even my ankles became unrecognisable from their spindly former self. But we’re talking millimetres here. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice. All this from a few boulder problems? Yes, I did find it a bit odd at first, but eventually I came to accept it as part of the game.
Gaining strength noticeably increased my climbing ability. Being short, I needed something up my sleeve and having a good strenght to weight ratio fit the bill. I wanted to climb as hard as I possibly could and accepted that this meant getting stronger and by default increasing my muscle mass.
I didn’t exactly lose myself in the process. I still spend an inordinate amount of time doing my hair and gasp; yes I have worn lip gloss while climbing. Why not? I maintain that I am just as girly as before I started climbing. My feet are a bit more mangled and I struggle to find sweaters that don’t make me look like an American Football player, but those issues aside, I never want to go back. I want to be as strong as I can for as long as I can and I won’t let a little bit of muscle get in the way.