Nearly Normal Norman
How do you compare with the NHS guidelines for your weekly activity? What about the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommendations for body fat? Or the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) for your cardiovascular strength?
Here's another more telling question: how do the NHS recommendations compare to the WHO and ACSM? And what happens when you add variants like age or height into the mix?
The broad breakdown is that as fitness professionals we'll have norms tables which are dependant on age, gender, build, function and athletic requirement. This means that if any of these inputs change then so would the expectation of what's a normal fitness test result. The norms tables may then quantify anything from fat and muscle mass, individual muscle/cardiovascular strength or endurance, flexibility, balance alignment or coordination. And the health and sports' bodies that write these tables don't always agree with each other.
When a client tells me they just want to be healthy I unfortunately can't look up a book and say, "here's a picture of healthy, let's get you there." I need more information and we both need a sliding scale on which to mark our success.
The appropriate sliding scale can be anything. For one client, it's an item of clothing they want to fit. For another, it's a measured increase in Vo2max (how much oxygen your body can take in and use when exercising) over 6 weeks.
The scale used only has to be measurable and duplicatable. When I started out as a Personal Trainer I learned silly amounts of measurement systems until I hit my now zen approach of actually asking what the clients wanted to measure (d'oh!) and that works fine for my business. (Of course, I still use a great variety - it's just more tailored.)
Getting back to you, the reader. I want you to enjoy your golf, running, fitness magazine or podcast without getting bogged down in their specific recommendations. There's only a small chance that whatever norm they're basing guidelines on is applicable to you. Taking time to understand your own body's abilities will give you a much fairer idea of where your health and fitness sit in the pecking order. It'll also stop you comparing yourself to other people, regardless of whether you feel you're doing better or worse than the next person.
After all, if you see yourself as better, you're more likely to relax when actually you're primed to achieve more. And if you feel you're under par there's more chance you'll feel discouraged from continuing. Neither of these scenarios help you become the successful, natural, easy exerciser you deserve to be.
Absorb the information that's out there but don't be afraid to challenge it, too. That author hasn't met you. Only you really know how to make sure you Enjoy Good Health!