Having a rounder ﬁgure might not mean you’re less ﬁt than someone who’s slim with a six-pack. Experts explain why.
“Wow, you’re so ﬁt!” This is usually what people say when they see someone rocking a six-pack of abs. However, that’s where many are confused between aesthetics and functionality.
Having chiselled arms on top of well-deﬁned abs does not necessarily make one ﬁtter than others. Beyond the superﬁcial, there are many women out there who excel in their areas of sports without a six-pack. In fact, some may not be considered slim by societal standards.
“It is better to be fat and ﬁt, than to be thin and unﬁt,” says Dr Ben Tan, chief of sports medicine at Changi General Hospital. “Fitness, especially cardiovascular ﬁtness and strength, confers health beneﬁts that can outweigh the detrimental effects of being slightly overweight. For example, unlike obese and sedentary individuals, rugby players do not have an increased risk of heart disease. And sumo wrestlers, despite their heft, rarely get heart attacks – until they retire and become sedentary.”
People exercise for different reasons – some for performance, others for vanity and for health. Still, one should not confuse aesthetic outcomes or cultural perceptions with measures of ﬁtness.
Fitness is a very broad term and has many aspects, including strength, stamina, endurance, ﬂexibility, power, speed, agility, coordination, and accuracy.
“Those with deﬁned six-packs or shredded muscles have better muscular strength, but they may not necessarily be ﬁtter in terms of muscular endurance,” says Adjunct Associate Professor Tey Beng Hea, senior consultant endocrinologist at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital’s Division of Medicine.
“Take the comparison between a weightlifter and a marathoner, who have different body compositions. Similarly, a skinny person may still be ﬁt in terms of cardiorespiratory ﬁtness, muscular endurance and ﬂexibility, while a chubby person will most likely be ﬁtter in terms of muscular strength and ﬂexibility. Overall, it depends on their body composition and what they do in their daily physical activities.”
Fitness can be measured in so many ways, depending on the sport you are in. For example, it can be measured by marathon timing, VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use up in a minute, which determines your exertion capacity), lactate proﬁle, a multi-stage ﬁtness or beep level, grip strength, the weight load you can carry, and the number of reps you can do in a speciﬁed time.
Then there is the abdominal circumference and Body Mass Index (BMI), which determines whether you’re within the healthy weight range based on your height, measure adiposity and its distribution, but these are not ﬁtness tests.
The BMI used to be the common man’s yardstick for determining whether he was in shape, but it alone cannot measure health and ﬁtness, says experts.
“Having a normal BMI may not mean that the person is ﬁt,” says Prof Tey. “The level of physical ﬁtness can only be determined by an exercise test. In assessing the health risk of a person, attention should be paid to other parameters such as waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.”
People who are overweight or obese with a BMI of 23 and above are at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension and certain types of cancer, but this prediction does not hold true for people who have a higher BMI due to muscle mass, like powerlifters or Crossﬁtters.
Ultimately, aesthetic appearance is not one of the factors in physical ﬁtness and, logically, it does not affect the ability to perform physical work, says Dr Jason Chia, senior consultant and head of the Sports Medicine & Surgery Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
“IT IS BETTER TO BE FAT AND FIT, THAN TO BE THIN AND UNFIT.”
– DR BEN TAN
THE CROSSFIT ENTHUSIAST
TRICIA TAN, 27
Business development assistant manager
Do you think you are ﬁt?
I guess I’m pretty decent, but there are many ways to measure one’s ﬁtness level, ranging from endurance and stamina, strength, ability to generate power, and more. As part of my Crossﬁt training, I cover a pretty broad spectrum of exercises, and it has allowed me to build up a good strength base. I can do a 105kg back squat, 120kg deadlift, 86kg clean and jerk, and a 65kg snatch. At the same time, there is a strong emphasis on gymnastics and the ability to manage one’s bodyweight.
Must one have abs to be considered ﬁt?
Abs are made in the kitchen. Even if you’re slim, you may not be lean and may not have abs. Fitness is about what your body is capable of. The aesthetic aspect is a bonus and comes from hard work, lifestyle changes, and eating healthily.
What do you enjoy most about your sport?
I’ve been doing Crossﬁt for four years. Like any sport, it is about competition and this drives me and sets my goals. It’s also about being the best I can be, as well reaching goals and consistently improving myself. Crossﬁt pushes and challenges me every day.
FITNESS IS ABOUT WHAT YOUR BODY IS CAPABLE OF. THE AESTHETIC AESPECT IS A BONUS AND COMES FROM HARD WORK.
THE TOUGH WRESTLER
QIN YUNQUAN, 26
CEO of Kapap Academy
What’s the misconception of ﬁtness in today’s society?
In this age of selﬁes and narcissism, ﬁtness is often deﬁned by how one looks.
As a national wrestler, I prefer to deﬁne ﬁtness from a more functional perspective. It’s about training one’s body for real-life situations, like lifting a heavy suitcase, hoisting a water container onto a dispenser, or changing car tyres.
Some athletes are bigger built and may not have deﬁned abs and yet are ﬁtter than most slim women. Do you agree?
Yes. I have met many athletes, especially catch wrestlers, who are generally on the heavy side but very strong and healthy. They are also fast on their feet, athletic and very powerful. It would be a gross mistake to think of them as being unhealthy or unﬁt.
Healthy living is more about eating a balanced diet, taking the right nutrition, getting enough sleep, and having adequate exercise. However, a healthy person may not be ﬁt. Being ﬁt has more demanding requirements.
What keeps you at your sport?
I’ve been a wrestler for over ﬁve years now and I represent Singapore. I am also a female self-defence instructor. What I love about wrestling is that it is a very demanding sport that is super technical, requires a high level of athleticism and is also fun despite its competitive nature.
A HEALTHY PERSON MAY NOT BE FIT. BEING FIT HAS MORE DEMANDING REQUIREMENTS.
THE BALANCED YOGI
SHA HALIM, 25
Yoga studio manager
What is ﬁtness to you?
Fitness equals functional ability. As long as you choose to move and sweat for at least an hour a day, you are good. Beyond the physique, it’s about emotional happiness, too.
Tell us about your sport.
I have been a yoga practitioner for about four years now, and I love the fact that it is accessible to anyone. I am also constantly intrigued by how yoga freely embraces me – even the dustiest corners of my soul.
Do you think it’s healthy to be ﬁt but not slim?
When I became more involved in the body image movement Rock The Naked Truth, I shared my struggles as an Asian woman measuring just over 1.8m and 97kg. People often think I am promoting obesity, but I am not. My ﬁght is just to allow people to be themselves. How would you know whether or not this large person you see struggles with hormonal imbalance, or that she has just had a miscarriage and is going through depression? You know what is healthy? Being non-judgmental.
MY FIGHT IS JUST TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO BE THEMSELVES... YOU KNOW WHAT IS HEALTHY? BEING NON-JUDGMENTAL.