Activity vs. Exercise, Fitness vs. Health

In this post I’m going to look briefly at a few popular words.  Activity is simply what it sounds like.  If you walk to work, mop the floor, stack some firewood, etc., this is activity.  Studies show that you get most of the health benefits available from activity if you burn about 2000 calories per week being active.  Differing from that, exercise is the more “official” entity that involves things like running, cycling, or working out at the gym.  Essentially, all exercise is activity, but not all activity is exercise.  Stay with me here.

We need to be active to receive the health benefits that improve our lives, but it isn’t always necessary to “dress out”, to do it.  We have a problem with inactivity and sedentarism in our population and we need to get everyone to be more active.  If someone is intimidated by formal exercise, or even turned off by it for whatever reason, let’s get them to embrace any safe activity and feel good about that!

Health has many definitions, but for the purpose of today’s post, let’s assume it is essentially the optimal functioning of the human being in all capacities (physical, systemic, psychological, etc.), and the absence of disease or illness.  Fitness, on the other hand, beyond the basic amount that equates with optimal health, is the ability to produce output of any kind at a certain level.  So, activity is necessary for health and basic fitness, but beyond that, we need to do specific exercise if our goal is a higher level of fitness.  Examples of this may be training to complete a 10k run, a major backpack trip, or to participate in a specific sport at a desired level.

Interestingly enough, we can never get away from basic statistics and the bell-shaped curve.  It turns out that health and fitness are not the same thing and they are not perfectly correlated.  In pursuing the highest levels of fitness, a person can create enough physiologic stress on the body to actually drive down health through overuse loads on the mechanical body, suppression of the immune system, and other issues.  Now, realize that you have to work fairly hard to accomplish that but that is a concern we have often with the active and athletic people we train.  There is a real art to learning how to train effectively, and combine periods of high intensity/duration to stimulate fitness improvement with periods of purposeful recovery. Even when our goal is maximum performance and we may have that clearly defined, our first concern is always health, and that is food for thought.  Future posts will touch on ways to optimize this balance and have both health and fitness.

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