Fitness and Health - The Same or Different?
You might often hear the words fitness and health used interchangeably, but are they the same thing? While fitness and health do go hand in hand, the reality is that they are most definitely separate concepts. Take a moment to think about it: a person can certainly be very fit, but not particularly healthy, as in the case of a daily gym-goer who is also a heavy smoker; while another person could also be incredibly healthy but not all that fit, like someone who eats well and manages their stress-levels but is never physically active. True well-being is taking all of the aspects of health, fitness and wellness into account, mind, body, and soul. This is the idea behind holistic health that we are seeing play out in the world of health and fitness today.
What are the differences?
So we've identified that fitness and health are separate, but equally important concepts. But how do we differentiate between them?
The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease. It includes aging well, longevity, quality of life, freedom from pain etc.
From that definition you can see that health is a broad concept that encompasses many different aspects of a person’s well-being. Being in good health means getting adequate restorative sleep, it means mitigating stress and stressful inputs, it means eating a healthful diet full of whole, nutrient-dense foods and staying adequately hydrated. But good health also means diving into deeper dimensions of wellness like emotional, social and spiritual health. Looking at health through this lens might mean partaking in self-care activities, spending time in nature, making time for friends and loved ones, having a hobby or activity you enjoy, and balancing your work and home-life. These are detailed health-related elements that can have an important effect on a person's overall health.
Fitness, in contrast, refers solely to the ability a person has to perform certain physical activities. Like health, there are a variety of components that make up being fit and a person can be physically fit in one of these attributes but be lacking in another. Being fit overall takes into account the things that might automatically come to mind, like cardiovascular fitness, endurance, strength, speed, and body composition (fat to muscle mass ratio); But being physically fit also involves lesser recognized aspects like flexibility, coordination, balance, power and agility, among others.
Fitness and health are intricately connected and to achieve true overall wellness, you should pay attention to both. The benefits of being fit and healthy are achieved when you take the big picture into account. It is all a big balancing act and the perfect picture of health and fitness for you might differ from your partner, your friend or your sibling. Once you are able to define what health and fitness look like for you, you can begin setting goals for both health and fitness that strive to move you closer towards this picture. There are so many components to take into account that you will need to define what matters most to you so you can focus the majority of your efforts there. An awareness of the difference between health and fitness will help promote a deeper understanding of all of the aspects that make up wellness and overall well-being.