I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about and working on my health and my fitness, and witnessing other people’s health and fitness. Let’s talk about these so that we can all achieve better health and fitness, and I’ll share some of my personal experiences with each.
Webster defines health as the condition of being of sound body, mind, and spirit. That’s incredibly comprehensive, and we could talk for weeks about what that means. But I like that word “sound.” And notice that it doesn’t say anything about being physically fit.
However, even Webster confused “health” and “fitness”. Webster states that these as synonyms. They are not. Physical fitness is about your ability to run, or bike, or swim, or lift weight, etc. It’s about how fast you can go, or how you can go, or how much weight you can lift, or how many times you can lift it, etc.
Although there is some overlap, you can be very healthy and not be particularly fit. I know people who have amazing diets and take great care of their body and their mind, but they don’t exercise, and I wouldn’t call them athletes. They are very healthy. And their fitness is decent, but only within the context of people who are neither healthy nor fit.
However, healthy people often are also very fit. And that may be why there is a lot of confusion between the two, because we tend to see them in the same person. But just because someone is fit, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are healthy. Let me give you a personal example.
Growing up, and even now, I’ve always been very athletic and very fit. When I was a teenager I ran, swam, biked, played football, and basketball, and was super active every day. I never stopped moving. And everyone, including my doctors, thought I was extremely healthy.
And yet I wasn’t. I had cystic acne, chronic diarrhea and abdominal pain, terrible gas, and was exhausted all the time. My head was in a fog most of the time. I could fall asleep anywhere and any time I was given the opportunity. And when I did I had nightmares. And I had to fight to stay awake throughout the day.
My hands and feet would swell up for seemingly no reason and affect my sense of touch, and I would get joint pains, even in my knuckles, that was extremely painful.
None of that is healthy. My doctors were no help at all. And although many people, including many doctors, would say that a lot of that is a normal part of being a teenager, I completely disagree. It doesn’t have to be that way. And we know that because for a lot of people it’s not.
If I knew then that I had a problem with gluten and dairy, and a candida overgrowth, I wouldn’t have had all of those problems. But it took me another 20 years or longer to figure those things out.
So I was extremely fit, at least by most standards. In reality my fitness was also being significantly impacted, because I wasn’t getting good nutrition, and was absorbing even less of it because of my digestive problems. I was also underweight, but most people interpreted that as being incredibly fit.
Fitness is a stress test. We stress our body in ways that test it.
Health is about what we consume, either orally or through our senses, and what we expose ourselves too. Everything we eat, every chemical we ingest or put on our skin or breath, and our ability to deal with the psychological and emotional stresses in life. All of those things directly affect our health.
And what about weight? Many people confuse weight as the defining issue in both health and fitness. It’s important, but there’s a lot more to health than weight. But of course, being overweight can also cause a lot of health problems, like high blood pressure, joint pains, reflux, and the list is very long.
But you can be overweight and be quite fit. In fact, overweight people are moving weight around all the time. And they have to be strong to do that. I’ve also seen overweight people do century rides on bikes. So I know they are fit.
And remember my story, being thin didn’t mean that I was healthy. So weight plays a role, but it is not the defining factor in health or fitness.
Directly related to that, exercising a lot does not mean that you can eat whatever you want and still be healthy. Maybe that’s a thing of my generation and kids are smarter now, but in my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of people try to counter a poor diet with more exercise. That might counter the weight and fitness issues, but you can’t escape the health issues of a poor diet by exercising more. They will still catch up to you.
Whew. That was a lot of stuff that really demands a lot more time. I hope that I got you thinking about health and fitness in a different way. They are two separate issues even though they overlap some and are related to each other.
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And if you need help solving digestive problems, we work with people all over the U.S. and the world and would love to help you too.
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.