Fitness and health are two things that seem to be illusive to us at times. We look around and see “fit” people all over, and wonder “why can’t that be me?”. If you walk into a fitness center on a Saturday morning, you’ll see plenty of these “fit” individuals. Some are in the free-weight section pumping iron, others are on the elliptical chugging away and still more are in the sauna sweating out those last bit of toxins. With all of these fit people, you may wonder how they get to be so healthy. But, are fit and healthy the same thing? And if you’re “fit”, are you actually healthy?
First, let’s understand “fitness” and what it is. The term fitness, in the context we use it today, is defined differently depending on where you look. For instance, Webster’s defines fitness as “the quality or state of being fit”; Dictionary.com defines it as “capability of the body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort”; our friend Wikipedia defines it as “a general state of health and well-being and the ability to perform aspects of sports and occupations. So, as you can see, our defining bodies can’t agree on what it “fitness” actually is. If you use these definitions, then the people that you see at the gym are “fit”…but really, so is everybody else.
The term fitness comes from biology. In biology, fitness is clearly defined as “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment”. Being that we are all organisms and that we can clearly survive and reproduce in most environments, we are all “fit” by the true definition of the term. All we decided to do was take biological fitness and turn it into physical fitness, then make it confusing by applying 100 different definitions to “physical fitness”.
So, by all accounts, the muscly guy lifting weights is fit, so is the skinny girl on the elliptical and the seasoned gentlemen in the sauna. But, so is everybody else. We are all just on different parts of the “fitness continuum”.
Now that we’ve decided that everybody is actually “fit” (just at different levels), let’s see if the fitter individuals we see are also healthier than those that look less fit (did I confuse you yet?).
Health is clearly defined as “the state of being free from illness or injury”. We are all living, moving, breathing beings. And because our lives are spent living, moving and breathing, we will all encounter some sort of wear and tear at some point in our lives. Whether it be from a sports injury, car accident or simply because you worked on a farm and your vertebrae in your back eventually wore out. So our injury will impact our level of health. We also may develop high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, or diabetes and have to take medication. Or maybe we just get the flu or a sinus infection that will eventually go away. All of this impacts where we are on the “health continuum”. And this is constantly changing.
So, by all accounts, the muscly guy lifting weights is not healthy because he has bad shoulders and can’t lift his arms over his head; the skinny girl on the elliptical is not healthy because she has plantar fasciitis from running too much (which is why she’s on the elliptical); the seasoned gentlemen in the sauna are not healthy because one of them is on blood pressure meds and the other has diabetes. But, here’s the thing, neither is anybody else.
Understand that the point of this article was not to undermine the hard work and perseverance it takes to go into the gym on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, the purpose is the complete opposite. Understand that we are all healthy and fit at some level. Just because someone is skinny and lean doesn’t mean they are healthier than you, although they may be more fit. On the other hand, if someone is free of injury and illness, this doesn’t mean they are more fit than you, although they may be healthier. The goal is to get closer and closer to the right side of the “fitness” and “health” continua (I had to look up the plural of continuum…). This means always fighting to be fitter and healthier than you were the day before.
If you read this whole article, thank you for your patience. It took a while to get to the point, but I’m hopeful it was clear.