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Photos courtesy of Justyn Warner/Unsplash

Whether it’s ”New Year, New You” or “Bikini Body” season, we’re constantly being told that if we want to be healthy, our bodies need to look a certain way.

But feeling your best is measured by way more than just numbers on a scale—and if you’re looking to truly be living well, you’ll want to re-imagine your understanding of what that actually looks like.

“We’re shown a very particular body type over and over again—the quote-unquote healthy body stereotype has been tall, thin, and cut,” says Bethany Meyers, a New York-based trainer and founder of intense low-impact workout Be.Come. “What we’re not taking into account is what’s happening to that person on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level.”

For one thing, how you handle tasks is often the best barometer to go by. “From an exercise or fitness perspective, a healthy body is one that allows seamless movement, with little to no restrictions or pain,” explains Charlee Atkins, CSCS, a movement and mobility specialist who founded functional workout classes Le Stretch and Le Sweat. “It’s a body that can perform all daily activities of living—sitting, standing, walking, lifting, etc.—with ease.” That means the endless burpees you’re doing at boot camp could be great for you—but, if they’re causing you pain (beyond the usual OMG-this-is-so-hard feeling mid-class), they might actually be getting in the way of your well-being.

Another barometer is whether you’re able to turn things on. “A sign of a healthy body is truly knowing how to engage different muscles without the use of equipment—so, say, being able to engage your abs when you’re standing,” adds Meyers. “A lot of people only know how to engage when they’re crunching, but not when they’re on their back.”

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One other key component that contributes to having a healthy body: moving on the reg. Meyers emphasizes how important it is to do something daily, even if it’s as simple as walking to work, taking the stairs, or going for a bike ride. “In Blue Zones [geographic-based cultures with the longest-living people], the people who are healthiest and happiest are the ones not trying to be healthy or happy—instead, they move on a daily basis and none of them [are focused on] hitting a certain number of steps or doing a certain amount of cardio a day,” she notes.

What about the stats your doctor takes down when you’re in for your annual exam? When it comes to weight, while there are known issues related to obesity, a recent study found that those at a “normal” weight with a single risk factor (think diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol) were actually at a greater risk for heart disease than those labeled “healthy obese.” Among individuals with no metabolic problems, the group at highest risk for a stroke are actually those considered to be underweight.

And then there’s body mass index (BMI). It’s often used to identify risk factor for a range of not-fun health issues (including heart disease), but increasingly researchers are questioning its accuracy. “While there is some truth to a BMI test, I still am a firm believer in the ability to perform movements with ease,” Atkins adds.

Meyers is in agreement: “My feeling is if you’re moving every day and enjoying yourself, there’s no way it won’t be affecting the numbers—it’s like getting to the same point via a different route, rather than the reverse where you look at the scale and are like, ‘Ugh, I have to lose two more pounds so I’m going to work out.’”

In other words, a healthy body isn’t necessarily a certain shape or size, but rather, a state of mind. As Atkins puts it, “It’s easier to assess how I feel every day based on what it feels like to roll out of bed and walk to the kitchen—that’s a true indicator of the physical health of my body.”  


Learn more about Charlee Atkins on her website and Instagram, and Bethany Meyers by following her on Instagram at @bethanycmeyers.

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.