My thoughts and perspectives on health, science, and logic… Keep an open mind!

Posts tagged ‘health’

Health vs. Fitness???


As is the case with many fields, the world of fitness sees many words used interchangeably when they probably shouldn’t.  Trainers with any experience have probably encountered times when two people used the same word to mean different things or vice-versa.  While I could harp on plenty of these disconnects in language (and I likely will in the future), today I’d like to look at two words that are at the core of what we do:

HEALTH… and FITNESS

So what do they really mean?  To many, that’s open to interpretation.  A lot of people might think it’s silly to give it much thought in the first place, as we all know what these words mean, right?  Well I’ll suggest that it’s never a bad idea to double-check these ideas before moving forward.  After all, if these are words we use to describe our goals — and our goals will determine everything we do in the gym — then shouldn’t we be COMPLETELY sure that we’re using them as accurately as possible?

abc_gma_health_3_101006_wg

For decades, Jack LaLanne served as an example of someone who focused on health AND fitness — performing countless incredible feats of strength and endurance over the years as well as living to the ripe age of 96 (image taken from abcnews.go.com)

 

If we’re to paraphrase the Merriam-Webster definition, good health could be described as the mental and physical condition whereby we are free from illness, injury, and pain.  Sounds reasonable enough, yes?  You could also describe it as a state of metabolic efficiency (all of the body’s processes are in good, working order).  So basically, a health-oriented goal would be focused on ensuring that our biological machinery is working well and that we’re not malfunctioning in any way.  And if you think about it, that’s indeed what a lot of people are going for when they exercise.  Lowering blood pressure and resting heart rate, reducing the risk of cancer, recovering from a sprained ankle so we can walk properly again — these are all attempts to preserve or improve our body’s basic ability to function.

But what about fitness?  The most appropriate definition I’ve been able to find is something along the lines of: the state of being adapted to a particular task or goal (being “fit”) — in exercise, this would mean being fit for a specific type of exercise-related or performance-oriented task.  So if we take this approach, we see that physical fitness could be demonstrated in a number of ways.  We can have a certain ability to run fast, jump high, be flexible, demonstrate motor coordination, etc.  It varies depending on the goal.

So we can see that — if you accept these definitions — fitness and health are NOT the same thing.  While health is a sort of baseline quality of someone’s biological function (are all the parts in good working order?), fitness is more about the way we can perform a particular task (how much endurance do we have, how strong am I, etc.?).

It’s certainly possible to be healthy but not particularly fit.  Just think about someone who goes into doctor’s office for a yearly checkup and has every test come back “normal” (healthy), but he/she doesn’t necessarily exercise and isn’t able to perform at a high level in any sort of athletic capacity (not really “physically fit” for those tasks).  Conversely, there are plenty of cases of extremely high-performing athletes who can run extremely fast or lift incredible amounts of weight (high physical fitness), but their cholesterol levels or blood pressure might not be very good (not extremely healthy).

fast car slow car

A Smart Car fresh off the lot will have all of its parts in good working order (“healthy”), but it obviously won’t perform the same as something designed for more speed.

 

So why am I mentioning all of this?  Because I think it’s important for us to realize that, while many of the improvements we make through exercise can aid in both goals (improved cardiovascular health will also aid in fitness tasks relating to endurance, etc.), it’s not always the case.  Sometimes, we can confuse one thing for another.  Just because someone looks great or can move well doesn’t mean he/she is as healthy as appearances might suggest.  Keep that in mind before chasing that next marathon, adding more weight to the bar, or insisting on taking aggressive measures to lose weight.  You can perform well, but don’t compromise your own health in the process!

 

More to come.  Cheers

 

-G

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Know where you’re getting your advice!!!


I felt the need to rant about something that really irks me — when people ask questions on social media, the “advice” that people can respond with is just unreal!

Back in the Saddle: Perspective is KEY!


Hello readers (it SHOULD be plural, right?)

First I want to say that I’ve been away from blogging for far too long.  It wasn’t really by choice.  I had a number of job-related issues come up that took all of my attention for the past few weeks.  But you don’t want to hear about all that, and it’s not why I’m writing anyway.

Aside from finally having some time to write, I decided that today was a good day to put up a new post partly due to an unsettling trend I’ve noticed.  Namely, it’s the new trend of being an online health expert.  What do I mean by this?

Dog Expert 1

I have to admit, some of us fake it well…

I’m sure we all have a friend or two (or in my case, dozens) who think that they are in a position to dole out advice on everything from how weight lifting makes women look manly to why this organic supplement will keep you trim.  While these people usually have the best of intentions — and I say “usually” since there are always the ones who try to peddle some supplement line or training DVD — they are not qualified to give even the most BASIC advice.  Is your aunt in any way educated on human physiology?  Could your buddy in the gym describe the shape of a hip joint, much less explain in detail how it functions?

Maybe I have high standards, but it seems a little idiotic to listen to the “facts” (read: misinformed opinions) of people with little to no education in exercise and nutrition!  But we do it all the time.  Someone is attractive or somehow has a persuasive manner about them, and we let them tell us whatever we want to hear.  We choose to listen to talking points and sound bites instead of doing our own research or asking the person to further explain their point of view.  But we must understand that, unless we do this, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Now I would hope that anyone reading this is intelligent enough to know better than to buy a product just because it contains some impossible-to-find, homeopathic, all-natural, prestige, gourmet, mother-approved, tax-deductible extract made from a baboon’s ear wax!  Many claims are obviously bogus.  But others are far more insidious and may pass as legitimate to the casual observer.  I won’t go on a rant today pointing these out (though that might be a good idea for a future blog), but just realize that there are more too-good-to-be-true schemes out there than you can possibly imagine.

I’m gonna be saying this A LOT…

So how can an average person sort out all of the B.S. from the facts?  While there are no sure-fire ways to catch them all, I CAN offer a few guidelines:

   1.) If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. — Of course I’d put this at the top.  This will help to wake up your inner skeptic before things get out of hand.

   2.) Fad diets/exercises come and go, but scientific progress tends to show more consistency. — This doesn’t mean science isn’t wrong at times.  It means that we only have the existing body of research to help us to figure out what might really be effective (versus some new product that will just make a guy a quick buck).

   3.) If we want to badly enough, we’ll believe anything! — We all like to think we’re beyond this, but reality seems to suggest otherwise.  Most people are very susceptible to the power of suggestion, whether that comes from themselves or someone else, and we need to be aware of this fact and temper our decisions accordingly.

   4.) Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA! — Essentially, this means that product manufacturers aren’t required to list everything that is in their supplements.  Moreover, they can make outrageous claims about the effectiveness of their products without much fear of reprisal, since there isn’t a massive agency actively investigating them.

   5.) Learn to do your own research.— It may not be sexy or glamorous, but sometimes the only sure way to get the answer you seek is by digging through some research articles.  Barring that, though, you can still get a good bit of info by consulting a number of experts in relevant fields and reading from major health/fitness organizations (CAUTION — even the big groups get it wrong sometimes!)

   6.) Be wary of any “expert” who doesn’t do #5!— Anyone who’s trying to convince you of something should be able to back up the claims that they make.  This means actually citing scientific research and logic instead of their own beliefs.  We live in a world filled with gym science, prejudices, misconceptions and half-truths.  If we’re to make any sense of it, we have to start dealing in facts without letting our feelings get in the way.  Which brings me to…

   7.) Bias is EVERYWHERE!!!— Most of the exercise “rules” that you’ve probably heard, particularly if they have come from a source other than someone who is very educated in the field, are the result of bias.  Sometimes it’s subconscious, and sometimes it’s not.  But to some degree, many of the decisions we make are largely the result of emotional attachments or aversions instead of reason.  The next time you hear advice from someone, try to figure out if they are basing guidance on their knowledge or their feelings.  I’ll explore this more in the future.

I could rant on about this, but I’ve already probably bored you to tears.  So let me wrap up by simply saying that the world is full of lies and misconceptions.  And the sad truth is, there usually won’t be anyone around to help you sort it all out.  The best tool you have is between your ears, and you’re gonna have to use it a lot if you want to avoid falling into the traps that so many people do.  That’s a big motivator for me as I write this blog.  Namely, to dispel what myths I can and shed a little light on things for anyone kind enough to read.  So until next time, keep learning and keep your eyes open.

Take care!

— Geoff

Tipping the Scales


First off, sorry for taking so long to post another entry.  Life gets hectic sometimes, but I’m sure everyone knows that.  I’ve been working on other content for my site, and I hope to have additions to AT LEAST the Nutrition page up soon.

I also hope all of my fellow USA dwellers had a great (and safe) Fourth of July!  I’m thankful to live in a place that allows me to have this website at all, and to pursue my education so that I may provide some knowledge to my readers.  But, as July 4th is a national holiday in the USA, it brought with it one of the hallmarks of American celebration.  Namely: FOOD!

I would bet that many people are already regretting their overindulgence in hot dogs, barbecue, and other tasty Independence Day fare.  Especially since this holiday falls in the middle of beach season!  As soon as the last bottle rocket fizzles out, people start scrambling to right the wrongs we committed at the picnic table.

In that vein, everyone seems to have a question about food and their weight.  Am I too fat?  Too skinny?  What does BMI mean, anyway?!?  Many of us live and die by the dreaded scale, while others don’t even bother with diet and exercise in the first place due to fear of never seeing the right numbers.  While I’m by no means an expert on diet and nutrition, there are a few ideas that I think might be good to keep in mind.  Let’s start with the first step.  Stop, take a deep breath, and realize:

It’s ONLY a number!

Now before people get mad, let me clarify.  Your weight can certainly indicate that you have gained or lost pounds, but without context, the readout on that scale is just a number.  A number of other factors determine what meaning that number has.  Until you have an idea of how much muscle and fat you have (as well as how much water you’re retaining and how much digestive content you might be carrying), you won’t have a complete picture of what your body weight actually means.  So try to decide whether you have to lose fat, gain muscle, or both to reach your fitness goals.  Remember what I said about knowing EXACTLY what you want your outcome to be?  (Review S.M.A.R.T. principle!)  Now that we’ve accomplished that, we need to:

Understand YOUR body!

Tied up in the concept of understanding whether you actually gain or lose weight is knowing your body.  Everyone has different proportions.  Just because you’re the same height as another person doesn’t mean you should be the exact same weight.  Think about this for a minute, and it should make sense.  Are her hips and shoulders set at the same width as yours?  Does that guy carry as much weight in his legs as you do, or as little in his arms?  How long are your limbs compared to someone else’s?  And then, after this is all done, you must consider what kind of fat we’re talking about.  Visceral fat (which lines your organs) has been linked to numerous diseases and health issues when found in excessive amounts.  Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, does not carry the same strong connections to health risks (though it’s what we worry about most, since it’s what we actually SEE).  Once we take these things into account, the picture gets more complicated, doesn’t it?

A skinfold test is only as good as the person doing the pinching!

To have a more complete idea of your risk for heart disease and other ailments, it might be necessary to get some blood work done.  Knowing your cholesterol levels and free fatty acid (FFA) blood content can give you a much better indicator of how healthy your system is than the old “pinch an inch” test.  So get all of the facts, if you’re really wondering about your total health profile!  Now one more big thing that I want to stress is this:

Find a way to live COMFORTABLY!

While most of us could use some improvements in the weight or health department, a lot of people take it overboard.  They may set unrealistic goals.  Remember that, more important than actually GETTING to your target weight or shape is STAYING there.  If you had to go on a crash diet and be miserable for six months just to fit into that bikini, was it really worth it?  As clichéd as it sounds, health is not a sprint.  It’s a lifelong marathon.  We get where we want to go by making tiny adjustments to our lifestyle over time.  It doesn’t all happen overnight, and trying to force changes too quickly will USUALLY result in disappointment.  So take your time, and find slow ways to adjust to healthier habits.  Whether it’s cutting back on sodas this month, or jogging an extra 30 minutes a week before ramping it up again in the Fall, we must make the changes gradual.  So shoot for something that you can maintain in a healthy and sane fashion.  Remember:

QUANTITY of WEIGHT doesn’t always indicate QUALITY of LIFE

So eat well.  Exercise.  Get your rest.  And most of all, enjoy it!  A healthy life doesn’t happen all at once.

And I for one am thankful for that 😉

Cheers,

Geoff

A Little Fiber Goes a Long Way


While my post on what NOT to read may have given the impression that I hate Internet health articles, the reality is quite the opposite.  Some convey a very sensible and concise message.  This is of course more believable when the article isn’t trying to SELL something!  Take this Yahoo! article, for instance:

Yahoo! — The 14 Best and Worst Foods for Digestion

I tend to eat a fairly good bit of fiber (much more than most of my friends, and I am often teased for this).  I find that it not only helps with filling me up and keeping everything “regular,” but it also makes it easier for my body to handle excesses that I sometimes force upon it.  While I’m not going to dig into glycemic index talks right now, I find that tempering my meals with a healthy dose of fiber tends to help to stabilize my weight and energy levels.  While it’s not a complete fix, it seems to help with some of the cheating guilt 🙂

One can always nitpick about a few things.  I think the author should have made a better effort to distinguish between pectin and cellulose (different types of fiber) and clarified regarding which kinds of fat are most likely contribute to gastric irritation.  But the overall message is pretty clear and accurate, and that’s the big point of this post.  Try a couple of simple things like working some fiber-friendly foods into your diet.  See if it doesn’t help a bit!

Finally, make sure you couple your fiber with a good bit of water.  That tends to help things operate more smoothly, as excessive fiber intake without enough hydration can actually have an opposite effect from what you want!

Always more coming,

– Geoff

A First Step


As I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to drop off some quick advice before retiring for the night.  I mentioned in my introductory post that I receive a lot of questions from friends and loved ones over how they should approach their exercise goals.  While there certainly is no one-size-fits-all answer to ANY scenario, I can contribute one tidbit that should always be the first step.  So here goes:  ACTUALLY KNOW YOUR GOAL!

“Okay, he’s being silly, right?  Of COURSE I know what I want!”

I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence by making that statement.  But it needed to be said!  So try this simple trick that they teach us in Kinesiology and personal training courses.  It’s not perfect, but it gets the idea across.  It’s called the S.M.A.R.T. principle.  Simply put, you do not have a properly constructed fitness goal if is is not:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented.

Now to be fair, I’ve seen the “R” stand for other warm-and-fuzzy terms like “Relevant” and “Rewarding,” but you get the point.  Make sure that whatever you want is something that you can realistically pursue and measure.  For example — “I’d love to have Beyonce’s body!” is NOT a proper goal.  It gives no idea of what specific changes you want to try to make to your body.  Now I’d ASSUME you’d perhaps be wanting to lose a little weight around the midsection, firm things up, and strengthen your arms and legs… because if you’re 4’10” and Japanese, you’re probably not going to have quite her stature or skin tone!  Now as ridiculous as that example was, it illustrates my point.  You have got to make it clear!  Only after you know exactly how you want to look/feel/perform can you start putting together a diet and exercise plan that will take you there.  Sure, there are lots of great general lifestyle habits you can develop, but you can’t wish your way into a specific kind of shape.  You have to make it happen!

So think about what your actual objective is.  Do you want to lose 15 pounds by the time school starts up in August?  Do you want to add 50 pounds to your squat max over the next 4-6 months?  Or would you perhaps like to be able to dance with your son/daughter at their upcoming wedding without getting tired?  Ask yourself these questions, make sure it’s something you can measure and be accountable for, and THEN you’ll be ready to get shakin’ 🙂

More to come!

-Geoff