I think I see what you’re getting at, but I don’t think it’s the best terms to describe the problem.
Fitness has two implications for me, firstly there’s exercise and strength, so fitness becomes about working out, stretching and challenging muscles through fixed routines and regular practice. The second implication though, is evolution. I hear fitness and I can’t avoid tying it into the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. In this case, fittest means best for purpose. Or at least something roughly equivalent. Fitness becomes being best suited and best positioned within a niche. Best able to deal with a certain set of challenges. Luckiest and best matched at the same time.
I don’t think these two terms are really good things to marry together, but I’ll hopefully remember to come back to that in a little bit.
Wellness again implies two things, though perhaps less diverse. First of all there’s a lack of illness. Simply being healthy. Not being disease ridden. Secondly, it strikes me as a broader topic. I think of well-being, which becomes everything from a stressless environment to an abundance of salads. It’s emotional as much as anything else. It’s about having a stable mentality with which to approach the world.
So both terms can be couched in a purely bodily sense, and then in some larger context. But I think those contexts don’t match up. Strength isn’t the same thing as survival. Not having a cold isn’t the same thing as being happy.
The thing with fitness, particularly in evolutionary terms, but also in more personal contexts, is that it simply doesn’t mean ‘harder, better, faster, longer’. Fitness is about being best able to do the job in front of you. Evolution doesn’t function by only allowing the strongest to survive, that should be visible in the fact that most animals we can see in the world aren’t the strongest, they are weird and monstrous and unique and bizarre. They have just found a system that works. Evolution fills gaps, but in fact these gaps evolve together. The whole environment is made up of different entities trying to fill up all of the space, trying to use the same set of resources, internal to them and external in the world. Everything is part of this huge web of movement and action.
So we shouldn’t look on fitness as something about being able to run the fastest, or lift the heaviest weights, but as how to prepare ourselves for the weirdnesses of the hugely complex world we live in.
This is why I love Tai Chi so much (and should probably start doing it again). It seemed tailored towards my own needs. Its an art focussed on building stability and awareness. It puts you back in touch with your body, and so back in touch with the world. It grounds you onto the floor, and lets you use that as strength. Not my strength, the strength of the world beneath me.
That’s my fitness. At least.
Illustration by Emma