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?
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).
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