Health and fitness are often lumped together but there’s a difference—and sometimes it’s a sizeable gap.
Let’s explore the working definition of each:
Health: A state of optimal physical, mental, and social well-being—not merely the absence of disease.1 Fitness: The condition of being physically fit.
But that doesn’t tell us a lot. Dan John describes fitness as the ability to do a certain physical task. It is important to note that fitness ability is different for a professional athlete than it is for the general population. The professional athlete relies on his/her fitness for a living. If they can’t get through game or event, they see less money on their paycheck.
For those of us who are not as genetically gifted, not blowing out our knees or back after a hard day’s work is the very definition of being fit.
It’s different strokes for different folks.
An ideal state of health (and fitness) varies from person to person and day-to-day. Some days you’re ready to take on the gym and smash your PRs and other days your back hurts so badly you can barely move.
The Relationship Between Health and Fitness
Usually being healthy and having a level of fitness go hand in hand. For example, when you’re healthy you’re able to move more, which helps improve your fitness. When you’re getting fit, you’re getting healthier by dropping excess weight, gaining muscle, and improving health markers like blood sugar levels and cholesterol.
Looking a certain way physically doesn’t define fitness. A person can look fit but it is possible that they really aren’t healthy. On the flip side, there are those who don’t appear healthy but can do amazing things.
A pertinent example of this difference are those who compete as figure contestants. It is a fact that the contestant has lost a lot of body fat in order to make their muscles pop and to look a particular way on the competition stage. By outward appearances they are extremely fit with large, strong muscles. But unfortunately the methods that are required to achieve this particular look aren’t sustainable in the long-term.
When you deprive the body of certain nutrients and train the body a certain way to lose body fat, it can mess with the body’s hormones and play tricks on the mind.
Let’s jump into the diet world for a moment. There are examples of extreme diets such as the Twinkie Diet or the McDonald’s Diet where people drop pounds and improve certain health markers by eating food that’s not the healthiest.
When it comes to weight loss, calories are king and as long as you’re in a caloric deficit you’ll lose weight, but are people who are dropping weight and eating unhealthily thus becoming healthy?
That’s up for debate.
Achieve Fitness Through the Right Methods
Although health and fitness usually go together, there is a gap. People can achieve fitness in ways that are not healthy, and people can look healthy by doing things that aren’t healthy.
Furthermore, there are people who don’t look heathy but are fit. Outward appearance is deceiving because health and fitness are more than just skin deep.
The best way to achieve lifelong health and fitness is to not rely on extremes. Stick to the proven methods of eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Health and fitness is not a race—it’s for life.
1. Herbert L. Fred, MD, MACP. Tex Heart Inst J. 2013; 40(1): 13–14. In Good Health: An Opinion at Best.