Do not Confuse Health and Fitness
After three days at the Equinox High Performance Living Symposium – an event for professionals in the company that features industry studs delivering awesome presentations, holding Q&A’s, and endless networking opportunities – I’m spent.
The lectures by Dan John, Nick Winkleman, Mike Fitch, Dr. Berardi, Dr. Mark Cheng, and so many more were informative and enthralling. The opportunity to meet hundreds of other Equinox trainers from all over the nation was crazy cool. Much of us formed a massive group of us that spent a late night together, completely owning an entire night club on West 58th street – well that was crazy fun.
Although, that last part made making the opening keynote on Saturday morning an interesting application of resilience.
Cliff Notes: Much was gained!
When attending conferences you’ll often notice a theme that runs through everyone’s lectures. Sometimes it is dictated by the event organizer in an effort to get their message out. Most of the time though, it is an unintended consequence of having some of the best talent in the industry presenting.
There are certain things that become obvious to a fitness professional once they’ve really grown in the fitness industry – and these things will always serve as tenants of their lectures, coaching style, and personality.
This weekend, without a doubt, the common theme was “Do not confuse being healthy with being fit”.
This couldn’t be a more perfect message for the current state of our industry. With Instagram heroes getting more attention than real coaches, and people confusing six pack abs with being a symbol of healthy living – it is time to pump the brakes and start changing the message.
What is does “fit” mean anyway?
Fitness has become synonymous with health in the vernacular of the modern adult. We are just “up in the gym working on our fitness” and that is making us healthier. (Thank you Fergie).
This is absolutely true in 98.8% of cases (I’ll point out the 1.2% that this doesn’t apply to later in the post). Going to the gym and lifting weights, doing your cardio, crushing some meters on a concept 2, etc. are all positive impacts towards your health.
Firstly, you’re moving. Awesome. People need to move more, period!
Secondly, you are actively challenging your cells to adapt to an overloading stimulus (or at least should be), which is going to cause a cascade of positive adaptations at the cellular level of your body.
It is important to remember that your physical form is the conclusion of the conversation between the cells in your body.
Lastly, you are putting yourself in an environment that is conducive to positive thinking, attitude, and well-being.
Yet, being fit is less about doing well for your health than it is about putting on a show in the gym, and obtaining a body that attracts attention out of it. It is a vein pursuit.
The pursuit of looking striking is often done at the cost of one’s health. Hardcore dieting programs, high impact training designs, and a constant sense of inadequacy is not healthy. Furthermore, that other 1.2% who utilizes drugs, surgeries, and even crazier means to achieve their ends are most definitely not healthy.
Think about it
For women, I’d argue that nothing has grabbed more attention than the “bikini” division being added to fitness shows. Now, those women who don’t want to put on significant muscle mass have a competitive outlet. On paper this is great.
Until you realize that many of these girls are obliterating their endocrine system (hormones) with constant weight fluctuation and supplements. Periods of high carbohydrate intake and heavy hip thrusts in an effort to get bigger glutes are often mirrored by severely restricted diets, prolonged fasting, and excessive amounts of cardiovascular exercise to drop body fat.
Find me a bikini competitor and I’ll find you someone who has been absolutely miserable in their lives. Especially, if they worked with an “old school” coach who has the science background of a bowling ball.
For men, Crossfit has turned a lot of average men into broken, feeble creatures. Sure, there are those who drop a ton of weight, find their inner athlete, and look like statues of excellence after a few years.
However, many stories go like this:
I started doing Crossfit about two years ago and one day I dumped a snatch real ugly and tore my rotator cuff and labrum. It is fixed, but I can’t throw anymore, can’t press, and even picking up my kid hurts.
I was crushing WODs a while back and eating paleo, and then I started getting really tired all the time, and even started gaining body fat. My muscles were always sore, so I started skipping workouts. Now, I’m here and I’m heavier than I was before I even started doing Crossfit.
Now, for artistic touch I’ve made these examples a bit towards the extreme. Yet, the scary part is that these scenarios have happened. People have worked so hard to achieve “fitness” that they have completely eschewed their health, leaving their quality of life completely wrecked.
There was such a push to achieve a particular “outside” that now their “inside” body is actually failing them. This isn’t even taking into account many of the social and psychological fall outs that occur as a result of committing to an intense training program.
It is key to know that Fitness is ultimately a PERFORMANCE existence.
So, what is Health?
Establishing a definition for fitness is relatively easy. Health, however, is a significantly harder challenge. Being healthy is an amalgamation of so many factors, most of which vary in importance in terms of creating health.
Having a normalized blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides profile is healthy.
Having a diet that is based around eating vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and quality fats is healthy.
Getting no less than 7 hours of sleep per night is healthy.
Exercising hard at least three days a week, and moving significantly more on three others is healthy.
What more though?
We could take our blood test and look at other variables such as testosterone, thryoid and cortisol.
We can look at meal timing, sets and reps, distances and heart rates.
This is still too shallow.
Being healthy is much more than just numbers on a sheet. It is a feeling. It is waking up every day with your body and being able to do more than you thought you could. Sure, having the aforementioned markers in check is critical in this occurrence, but there is definitely more pieces in the puzzle.
What may matter more are some of the things that aren’t often spoken about.
How are your social relationships?
Do you feel love towards and from anyone (including a pet)?
Do you have a process for regeneration?
Do you have spiritual adventures (not necessarily religious)?
Can you wake up and look yourself in the mirror and be willing to high five that person staring back at you?
Or, most amazingly, as Mike Fitch stated to close out his last lecture –
Close your eyes and picture yourself ten years older, then ten more, all the way until you are 80 or 90. How do you see yourself? Are you happy with what you look like, what you feel like? Now, realize that every action you take today is going to impact that person you see in your mind!
Seriously, talk about powerful. That thought process really put purpose behind a lot of things in my mind, and I truly hope it does so for you too.
A 600 pound deadlift is awesome, and I’m all for someone obtaining it. Just make sure that isn’t the only thing you live for – otherwise you might end up a kyphotic old man with questionable health when you become seventy.
Having low body fat and looking like a perfect human being is impressive. A perfect picture of perfect practice. Yet, when you are 80 and your glutes have softened, or your pecs have dropped – does your life exceed the sum of all those old Instagram photos you lived for when you were younger?
How to Be Healthier
Again, I want to repeat that fitness is critical to achieving health. You must challenge your body to be a better vessel if you want it to be a healthy one. So too, is nutrition. You can’t be putting junk food in and expecting elite performance, good biomarkers, and a sense of well-being; you just can’t.
I want to focus on the other things though.
These 5 keys are not ALL my original content. One I know I’m taking directly from Dan John, and the other from the great Canadian Peter Twist. Beyond that are simply healthy recommendations that I believe can help achieve a better, and healthier life!
1. See your Dentist – healthy teeth mean much more than just a pretty smile. If you have a mouth riddled with cavities you will not enjoy eating crunchy vegetables or walnuts. Science has shown that healthier mouths also lead to lower incidences of cancer and other life threatening diseases.
Schedule multiple appointments per year and do your best to keep your mouth healthy.
2. Be a part of a Community – Being a lone wolf is all the rage in fitness. “Working while others sleep” is common speak. Yet, being a part of a community that loves you, and that you love, will ensure that you last beyond the fickle nature of fitness, but rather, extend into a healthier way of living and existing.
This extends beyond fitness too. If you love reading Hemingway – look for friends, virtual or real, that share your passion for a whiskey-driven story teller.
3. Move beyond the gym – Don’t just think of exercise as weight training, cardio, and beyond. Move the way you were intended. Rediscover the length of your body, the rotation you’ve lost, and find ways to move that you didn’t consider before.
Don’t just do what stands out as exercise. Take that hike with friends, or play tennis with your spouse. Chase your kids around the yard just because you can.
4. Regenerate often – Regeneration could be yoga to some, a nap to another, or finally sitting down and watching a movie if your me. Regardless, whatever you need to do in order to recover from your life – do it, and do it when needed.
Regeneration is all elements that help mitigate the stress of your life. If you need to push hard for a few hours on a Friday afternoon to knock out a to-do list so that you can sleep in on Saturday, make yourself breakfast, and spend the morning reading and watching a movie – do it.
5. Only buy strength – This one comes directly from Peter Twist. Don’t surround yourself with negativity. Only “purchase” strength in your life. Do not keep that person who holds you back, and do not go grocery shopping for anything that won’t make you better. This is even more important when you have a family. Fill your home with strength. You’ll discover what your strength “is”, but don’t evacuate it – ever.
Strength for some will come from a religious text, for others it will be the foods they eat, the weights they carry, or the experiences they feel. Regardless of where your strength derives – grasp it as often as possible.
So, there you have it. Understand that health and fitness are not exchangeable. One is fleeting and the other forever. Being healthy in your mind, body, spirit, and your social adventures is critical to living a full and satisfying life.
Health is LONGEVITY.
One may assume from reading this article that I’m advocating for ditching the “performance” lifestyle and instead only focusing on being healthier! This is most certainly not the case. A truly healthy person is capable of pushing the limits of human performance while simultaneously taking care of themselves in other ways.
Being mindful of the psychological, physiological, and performance aspects of our bodies can lead us to experiences a higher level of happiness in our lives. It is important to know that having a great "outside" is not proof that all is well on the "inside". Balancing the internal and external is critical to achieving a truly high performance lifestyle.