What Is Body Inclusivity? Health Benefits of Body-Inclusive Fitness

In the vibrant discourse on health and wellness, a balanced and compassionate approach to body inclusivity is essential. Recognizing diverse body shapes and sizes is critical to fostering self-esteem and mental well-being, as well as promoting comprehensive health strategies that cater to everyone. The intersection of health, wellness and body inclusivity can improve lives while also acknowledging the proven health risks associated with overweight and obesity.

This approach to body inclusivity is often discussed in the context of the health and fitness industry and how professionals in that realm can be more inclusive and do a better job of reaching the people who may need their services most. It’s important to acknowledge, however, how personal this topic is for many people and to highlight the value in self-care and viewing yourself with the same type of empathy with which you’d hope others would view you. Empathy, inclusion and empowerment should come from within at least as much as you expect it from others.

[READ: Radically Inclusive Yoga.]

What Is Body Inclusivity?

Body inclusivity means accepting and respecting a wide range of body types and ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their body size, feel valued and included. This includes respecting your own body and the bodies of others in your life. Everyone, regardless of their body size, is worthy of respect and a sense of feeling welcomed in any space.

Body inclusivity challenges the societal norms and stereotypes that often equate thinner bodies with health and desirability, while larger bodies are associated with laziness or a lack of discipline. These stereotypes can lead to discrimination and can have serious impacts on physical and mental health.

[READ: Body Positivity: A Perfect Ballet Body.]

Health and Body Size: A Complex Relationship

While body weight can impact health, it is not the sole indicator of health status. Many people with larger bodies lead healthy, active lives and do not necessarily experience chronic health conditions. Conversely, people who appear thin may eat poorly, be inactive or face metabolic issues or other health challenges.

However, evidence from numerous health studies indicates that having significant overweight or obesity can increase the risk of various health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and stroke. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline that obesity is a major risk factor for chronic diseases that are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.

This is where the conversations around body inclusivity become difficult. While understanding that while everyone’s body should be celebrated and respected for what it’s capable of and the things our bodies allow us to do each day, there must be room to honestly discuss the harmful outcomes associated with carrying extra body fat. Being empathetic and respectful should not come at the cost of ignoring how detrimental overweight and obesity can be to people’s health.

Addressing the health risks outlined above is essential, but it must be done without stigmatizing others or yourself. Making informed choices about your body size is key.

[READ: Factors That Contribute to Weight Loss and Weight Gain]

BMI and Weight as Measures of Health

Much of the conversation around body inclusivity and its intersection with health centers on a single number; the weight you see on the bathroom scale each morning. Too many of us place too much value on our weight, which triggers a cascade of sometimes unhealthy coping mechanisms or causes undue stress and oftentimes emotional harm.

Think of all the numbers thrown around during conversations about health, fitness and wellness: weight, body mass index (BMI), calorie counting, step counting, nutrition tracking and so on. BMI, in particular, is an uninformed way of viewing health, as it’s simply a ratio of height to weight and nothing more. It was developed originally to measure and research body composition at the population level, not an individual level. BMI has long been used in research to draw the dividing lines between underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese, but there is nothing magical about moving from one category to another in terms of your health and well-being. BMI alone tells us very little about a person’s overall health.

The truth is, you’ll be much better served if you stop stressing about the numbers and instead focus on finding ways to more consistently make healthier lifestyle choices, for example:

— Consuming more nutritious foods

— Adding physical activity to your day

— Trying meditation or other stress-reduction techniques

— Prioritizing relationships and social connections

[READ: How Long Does It Really Take to Make Healthy Eating and Exercise a Habit?]

Fitness for All Body Types

Fitness is for everybody, no matter their size. Don’t be discouraged from engaging in physical activities that you enjoy, whether that’s swimming, cycling, yoga, weight lifting or any other movement that gets your muscles working, keeps blood pumping and brings you joy. It’s about finding what works for you, respecting your limits and feeling empowered to progress at your own pace without comparison or judgment.

When it comes to gyms and other fitness facilities, the good news is that the health and fitness industry is actively working on promoting inclusivity and serving a broader spectrum of customers. Efforts include designing gyms and fitness programs that cater to a wide range of abilities and body types, using inclusive language and offering support that respects each individual’s unique journey toward health and wellness.

So, if you’ve been shying away from joining a facility, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find when you walk through those doors for the first time. And, if a particular gym doesn’t feel right for you, do some research and you’ll likely find a more welcoming space in your community.

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What Is Body Inclusivity? Health Benefits of Body-Inclusive Fitness originally appeared on usnews.com

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