There are currently more than 42m shots tagged with #Fitspo on Instagram (plus a further 27m for #muscle and 17m for #gains). That’s a whole lot of bulging, Creatine-fueled stacksmen feeding our fascination and skewing our perception of bodily ideals.
But are these images of perfection an accurate depiction of fitness? Not according to Dr Pippa Hugo, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital. “A healthy ideal for men is difficult to determine but is certainly far from the ideal that is commonly portrayed,” she says.
Hugo adds that in today’s image-obsessed world, many men are engaging in unhealthy levels of exercise to pursue what is often an impossible goal, and sometimes with severe consequences. We spoke to experts across the board to paint the real picture of health.
Unsurprisingly, we’re not all naturally born with a Cristiano Ronaldo frame, and as such, we can’t expect to carve the same body.
“I have many patients that come in various sizes, and people’s muscles develop in different ways,” says Dr Spencer Nadolsky, a physician that specialises in fitness and nutrition. “There are no specific muscles that show someone is at a peak fitness, as every body shape is completely individual.”
It’s What’s On The Inside
Good looks are only skin deep. It’s what lies beneath that counts: in this case, visceral fat, which is the kind stored within the abdominal cavity and around vital organs.
“[VF] is important when considering health as it’s mostly hidden away,” says Nadolsky. “High levels can trigger elevated glucose, impaired glucose tolerance and dyslipidemia – a factor in coronary heart disease.”
Although visceral fat is out of sight, it shouldn’t be out of mind. Nadolsky adds that while there isn’t a recommended percentage (though many suggest below 13 as optimum), even the most superficially pleasing of bodies can hide high amounts.
Waist Not, Want Not
Though bodies do come in all shapes and sizes, an expanding waistline is a universal indicator of poor health.
“The average man in peak physical condition should have around 10 per cent body fat or less, with a waist circumference under 35 inches,” says Nadolsky. “It’s harder to determine the ideal size of chest, arms and legs as training for specific sports can develop some muscles while neglecting others.”
Whiter Than White?
Granted, a Hollywood smile is part and parcel of the perfect body, but pearly whites are just one shade of healthy.
“Strong teeth with no cavities, fillings or root canal treatments are the healthiest teeth,” says celebrity dentist Dr Richard Marques.
If seeking a brighter smile, Marques suggests eating whiter foods like chicken, rice and fish, drinking clear fluids and avoiding heavily pigmented foodstuff.
Body mass index (more commonly known as BMI) has long been a method of measuring weight-related disease. However, high scores don’t always mean high risk and there is no golden number, so don’t stress it unless your doctor says otherwise.
“BMI does a great job at screening, but it can be off the mark from an individual standpoint,” says Nadolsky. “I have patients who boast a BMI in the overweight or even obese range when in reality they’re in perfect health.”
As an external organ, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are most evident in our skin. But while bronzed Adonis bodies may get the double-taps, being tanned is not always a positive sign.
“Cumulative UV exposure can cause uneven skin tones, which can lead to a prematurely aged appearance but more importantly, increases the risk of skin cancer,” says consultant dermatologist, Dr Sharon Wong. “UV radiation also directly damages your collagen levels, generating wrinkles, causing a loss of volume and adding a leathery look in later life.”
We hate to break it to you, but impressive bodies of the hulking variety aren’t always natural. Sylvester Stallone is just one celebrity to have been busted carrying Jintropin – a Chinese growth hormone – hinting at the wider and dangerous practice of steroid use.
“Steroids should only be prescribed by a doctor,” says Hugo. “If misused, the physical and psychological consequences can be alarming, ranging from injury to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.”