Why You Don't Need to Look Ripped to Be In Great Shape

05/18/2015 01:44 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016
Adam Hester

Summer is right around the corner. This is usually the time when people focus on getting in shape to shed some pounds for the ideal beach body. Avoid hyped up gimmicks like: "This magic pill will make you look and feel 18 years old again -- in only three days!"

What if you just want to get healthier? Do you need to have the body of a fitness model to be in shape? No!

For some, aspiring to a "beach body" may be a motivating factor in making healthy changes. However, if you do the work and don't get as toned and muscular as the people you see in the ads, it doesn't necessarily mean you're unhealthy and out of shape. It is possible to be in great shape without having a picture perfect physique.

If looking really toned and muscular aren't the only markers of fitness, how do you know when you are in shape? There are four key areas that indicate all-around physical fitness: aerobic fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Ask yourself these questions to see how fit you really are.

Can You Walk a Mile Without Getting Winded?

A brisk walk, or even a run, is a good test of your aerobic fitness. If you can't complete the walk, or you are very winded afterward, then you aren't in shape. Record your pulse before and after you start to see how much of an increase you have. To do this, feel your pulse and count the number of times you feel a beat in 10 seconds; multiply that number by six to determine the number of beats per minute. If there is a large increase in the number of beats per minute after you have completed your walk, you might have some more work to do.

How Many Push-Ups Can You Do Before You Need to Rest?

Push-ups are a great way to test your strength and endurance. When testing yourself, make sure you are keeping proper form. Lie facedown on the floor, elbows bent with your palms next to your shoulders. Keep your back straight, and push up until your arms are fully extended, then return to the starting position. Each time you return to that starting position, it counts as one push-up. If you can only do a few pushups before you need to rest, you may need to work more on your strength and endurance.

Are You Flexible?

Flexibility is very important, especially as we get older. To get an idea of how flexible you are, place a yardstick on the floor, securing it in place with a piece of tape at the 15-inch mark. Sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you, placing your heels at the mark you made with the tape. Reach forward as far as you can, and use the yardstick to help you record how far you reach.

Do You Have a Healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Body mass index (BMI) indicates your percentage of body fat. This is quite simple to calculate if you use a BMI calculator (like this one). You'll need to know your height and current weight. Enter that information into the calculator, and it will give you your percentage of body fat. A BMI of 18.5 - 24.9 is considered healthy and normal. Any more than that is considered unhealthy.

Ultimately, fitness has less to do with how you look and more about how you feel, and what your body can do. It's all about working toward being the healthiest you can be. If aspiring toward a "beach body" helps you get there, that's fine. But don't get discouraged if you don't achieve it; being "ripped" is not the end-all, be-all of health.

For more tips on creating a healthier lifestyle, visit the official blog of Michael A. Gleiber, MD or engage with Dr. Gleiber on Twitter and Facebook