Defining “Health” and “Fitness”

We’ve all heard it before. Someone rambles out some meaningless comment like, “Yea, I want to be ‘fit’,” or, “I wouldn’t mind looking like so and so, s/he is really ‘in shape.”

What does being “fit” or “in shape” even mean?

It’s funny, but if you ask 100 people off the street to answer that question, you are likely to receive 100 very different responses. Chances are also likely that approximately 60% of the time those answers will make absolutely no sense every time (for all you Anchorman fans).

Some lay folk might say that someone is ‘in shape’ if they are simply not overweight and are skinny. Others (people who exercise or attempt to exercise) might argue that point and rightly state that being thin does not necessarily equate to being healthy and that someone can be ‘skinny-fat.’ People often perceive skinny with “fit” but most often ignore any health component to the individual’s body and physiology.

To be blunt, the fact that someone is skinny is not an indication of “health” or “fitness” level. In fact, for me, it means very little altogether. Especially when one enters into a health and fitness related conversation with said skinny person and said skinny person starts the conversation off with how s/he eats egg whites and Kashi or Special K cereal for breakfast to “start the day off right” and follows that up with their gerbil’s favorite mid-morning snack. This is usually about the time I want to give myself one hell of a face-punch in hopes of rendering myself unconscious so as to avoid a lowering of my health and fitness IQ by the next nonsensical statement said skinny person will make.

When someone starts to run their mouth or offers health or fitness advice, make sure you ask questions, and a LOT of them.

Where did they get their information for this “advice?” It’s usually a worthless magazine, news story, or something a ‘trainer’ once told them.

What types of physical activity are they currently engaged in?

How long have they been following this “advice?”

What is the “advice” actually based on? Something that Dr. Oz said? Something Kim Kardashian said? Those two are about on par with one another.

What makes them think that the “advice” will work for you?

Many people are quick to dish out advice and tell everyone and their momma what they should be doing and why just in casual conversation. I have a little secret to tell you…such people are even less worth listening to than a dentist who looks like s/he has a mouthful of dice when smiling.

How can someone give you nutrition, health, fitness, or rehabilitation advice simply by standing next to you? This is about as unprofessional as it gets and I have personally witnessed MANY so-called “trainers” do this very thing. You do not know anything about this person standing next to you. How can you say something like, “Oh no you should not be eating that many carbohydrates, that’s way too many, and you will end up with diabetes if you keep that up.” Really? How do you know? What are the sources of the carbohydrates for this person you are mis-advising. In what ratio to other macronutrients are they being consumed? What is the individual’s micronutrient density like? What are the metabolic demands placed on his/her body? Are they eating that carbohydrate content on training or non-training days? And on and on the list of questions could go.

Another related situation which I have personally witnessed with ‘personal trainers’ is that Client X has been experiencing low back pain during and after training sessions. This goes on for a couple of months and then the trainer tells Client X to “strengthen their core” (whatever the hell they mean by that), stretch the low back, and hop on an inversion table. Really?? What assessment was conducted to arrive at this conclusion? How do you know that Client X will benefit long-term from hopping into an inversion table? What was the basis for the recommendation? Turns out, Client X has a deranged disc and a space occupying lesion at L4/5 along with a sacral torsion and every recommendation the “trainer” gave made things worse. This is a classic case of when one must know to refer out to someone more capable of delivering the appropriate service to the individual in question.

The same thing can be said for exercise recommendations. I have written on exercise numerous times, but the trend is for trainers and coaches to simply dish out random forms of physical abuse on their clients and athletes because that is what is popular. Again, to be blunt, any idiot can make someone tired. But that does not make a great training session. If all you are looking for is for someone to make you tired, anyone can do that. Hell, just jump in place for 30 minutes while standing in a 140 degree dry sauna. That’ll do the trick, but it won’t really do a damn thing to improve your body composition. Better yet, grab a fly swatter and wave it back and forth violently about 700 times. Your tricep will be toast. But no matter how many times you do that, your tricep will not look any better. Being tired and sitting in a pool of your own vomit does not mean that you are doing yourself any favors. The training stimulus must match the desired outcome in order to receive the training effect. Otherwise, you are just chasing your tail doing whatever exercise Trainer Numbnuts just read in Muscle & Fiction magazine.

In conclusion…

Everyone has a definition of health and/or fitness. Make sure the person you are taking advice from knows your definition inside and out and that the advice that is given has the end result in mind. As well, use objective markers to verify results. If you are after body composition changes – take regular skin fold measurements (yes, there are other methods) to track progress. If you want to look better naked, take regular progress pictures in your birthday suit with the same lighting in the same room at regular intervals.

If you are not seeing results, seek advice elsewhere (please note that if you want the results you want in a few weeks and you are coming to the table with a long history of bad habits, you will need a healthy dose of reality and patience because that is not how the body works). If it took you 20 or 30 years to look less than stellar or to develop an illness/disease, it will take more than a couple of months to achieve a new aesthetic appeal or to overcome any chronic health challenge.

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