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If you exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and stick to a healthy diet, you may consider yourself fit. But are you hyperfit?

Athletic ability alone isn’t enough to get you through intense experiences that are both physically and mentally challenging, like a marathon or the military. Now, scientists are trying to determine what makes a person hyperfit—someone who is not only in prime physical condition, but who also has the mental toughness and resiliency to get through even the most grueling physical challenges.

In Natick, Massachusetts, researchers are testing women in elite military forces to isolate the markers that define them as hyperfit. Testing includes bone density scans, calcium and iron levels in the blood, and a breathing test to measure how much oxygen is used at peak exercise rate.

In addition to physical tests, the subjects take three psychological exams to test their grit, hardiness and resilience, which researchers hope will reveal the mental and physical factors that help the women succeed.

While the psychological aspect of fitness is often overlooked, it can be as important, if not more so, than the physical aspect. When you’re trying to get through a race, a training regimen, or another tough challenge, your physical ability can only take you so far. Of course you need strength, stamina and endurance, but when fatigue and the difficulty of the challenge start to take their toll, it’s mental toughness that helps you push through.

According to Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense, it’s not just physical fitness that has enabled the women being tested to withstand the toughest training the military has to offer. While it obviously requires a high level of athletic ability, some people have an extra ingredient that makes all the difference. “My belief is it’s grit—grit gets them through this,” he said. “These women are tough.”


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