How do you differentiate between health and fitness? This is a question I get asked quite a bit. They’re often talked about in the same way and may seem interchangeable. Take your average “gym rat,” as they are sometimes fondly called. Maybe this person is a treadmill champion, averaging 90 minutes of running every day. Maybe they live in the weight room, and high reps and set numbers are what they’re all about. These people may not just achieve their fitness goals-maybe they just smash right through them. But are they truly healthy? Have they achieved wellness or just fitness?
As an avid marathon runner, I consider myself to be very fit. As a doctor, I know that there is a crucial difference between my fitness level and my health. I’ve found that the key to true wellness is finding the balance between the two. Recently, I led a workshop at the Waynesboro YMCA to discuss that balance and share some insight on common misconceptions about health, fitness, and the routines that can help you achieve the ultimate goal: wellness.
Wellness workshops are especially helpful, because although they are attended by people of all ages and all fitness levels, the information shared within them is universally beneficial. Everyone can benefit from debunking some of the most common myths about health and fitness. Take for instance, the idea that exercise can erase bad eating habits. This myth is pervasive and establishes one of the biggest hurdles to achieving wellness. The fact is, you can run 10 miles a day and disregard the importance of your diet, because in the mirror you may look thin and toned. However, by not monitoring your diet and having the right balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates, you are still elevating your risk factors for heart disease, stroke and cancer. The first step past fitness and into wellness happens when you look past the mirror and examine what’s going on inside the body.
My second favorite health and fitness myth to debunk in a wellness workshop is all about active recovery and injury prevention. In the past, the best recovery was thought to be passive. Workout 4 days, completely rest your body for 1 is still a common routine for some people. But it’s not the most effective way to achieve full-body wellness. Rest is critical to wellness because it’s restorative. Not only is your physical health dependent on getting rest, so is your mind and your spirit. But, you have to rest your body in the right way. Active recovery is the engagement of low-intensity exercise after completing a workout. As paradoxical as it may seem, the best way to recover from exercise is to exercise at a lower intensity rather than remaining sedentary. Combined with a healthy sleep schedule, active recovery routines build the foundation for restorative rest.
Some fitness myths can actually take a direct toll on your health, because they can lead to an injury that leaves you totally sedentary. For instance, how many people stretch before they exercise? It’s a common practice, built on the misconception that stretching elongates the muscle and will prevent injury. The truth is, stretching before a workout will weaken the muscle by 30%, and the reduced tension may increase the risk of injury. My workshop advice is always this: do a warm up by walking before cardio or doing light weights before intense training, and do a deep stretch only after a workout. This important change can actually help to prevent some very serious injuries.
As I lead these community workshops, my journey to becoming Dr. Active becomes even more significant. Closing the gap between health and fitness and debunking some of the most common myths about the two ideas leads to the ultimate goal: wellness. Wellness is the balance of both fitness and health. It considers all of your choices, habits and goals, and how they create your entire lifestyle and
affect your overall wellbeing. Wellness occurs when we actively engage in the process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life.