Being Fit vs. Being Healthy
What's the difference and why does it
matter to you?
I just returned home from a family vacation up north to New Hampshire and Canada, and I ended my journey with a 20-hour solo drive from Canada back to Virginia. Because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my friends and family, I condensed a two-day trip into an all-day driving marathon. The good news for my wife and very recently arrived daughter is that they flew back home and missed the whole adventure. So how do I use this as a lead-in to my topic for this September's My Healthy Lifestyle online newsletter? Well, believe it or not, there's a connection.
As I crawled into bed after my long and tiring drive, I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my leg. As I expressed my discomfort as calmly as possible, my wife commented about how I "always" seem to be pulling something or other, and how unlikely that is since she sees me as being fit. Her comment was the inspiration for my desire to highlight the difference between being fit and being healthy. I consider myself to be fit in the conventional sense, but not always very healthy or injury free. My trip demonstrated that my particular perfect storm – lack of sleep combined with poor eating while on the road and prolonged static positioning – brought together the right ingredients for a health problem, specifically a musculoskeletal injury.
Another perspective of this relationship between fit and healthy recently played out on the world stage. During the recent Olympics in London we had the opportunity to witness some amazing physical prowess and some memorable examples of what the fit human body can accomplish. But while "fit" was evident in a wide range of events, what about the overall health of the Olympic athletes?
You probably noticed that quite a few of the competitors were taped, strapped and otherwise "held together," and in some cases, athletes dropped out due to injuries, particularly in the strength and endurance events. The thing to keep in mind is that a truly healthy person should not get injured doing the very activity for which they have trained over the course of the past four years or more… should they?
The answer to that question is probably not, at least under most circumstances. But in order to reach the level of motor-performance fitness needed to compete on that level, Olympic athletes are pushing their bodies to extremes that are certainly not healthy. In fact being perfectly "tapered" for a goal or skill-related event requires athletes, and weekend warriors alike, to push their bodies right to the brink of failure usually one to two weeks prior to the activity and then allow the body to actively rest in the time leading up to the event. Those who master that equation successfully end up on the medals platform. Those who don't get the balance quite right generally don't perform up to their ability and expectation or they get injured and drop out of the competition.
And therein lies the difference. Being fit means you can walk, swim, run, bike and lift weights and pursue the exercise of your choice. It generally includes a reasonable amount of specific aerobic and/or neuromuscular fitness. As a bonus it may even mean you have a toned and strong body externally. But being healthy involves more than skill-related physical performance. Truly being healthy is a culmination of everything we do as part of our lifestyle and within the total context of wellness. For example, healthy people have strong immune systems, high energy levels, and healthy body weight. They are well-rested, thrive in both personal and working relationships, and have developed a good relationship with a primary care physician and other care providers – which includes regular visits for health and wellness checkups and screenings. Most important of all, being healthy, as opposed to merely being fit, goes beyond the purely physical and extends into the mental, spiritual and social realms of our lives.
I hope this distinction helps to highlight why we're making a concerted effort for Riverside employees to get their biometric screening done. Gauging a person's level of health by external markers such as appearance, weight and even performance can be extremely misleading. We hope all of our employees are making an investment in their own health so we can maintain a vital and vibrant work force eager to help those in need in our communities.
As you continue on your personal health journey, or if you are just getting back on track, ask yourself this simple question: "Am I on the road to becoming fit and healthy, or just fit?" If your answer is "just fit," try incorporating other aspects of wellness into a more comprehensive plan that revolves around the combination of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Then step back and watch as you thrive.
Stay healthy my friends!
Chair, My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee
(Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel is the Administrator of Riverside Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.) For more health tips and good information, you can also follow Daniel on Twitter @danob71.
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