A Journal of Strength, Health, and Self Cultivation
WARNING – A muscular and fit body does not ensure good health. Public domain photograph.
A common misconception among strength athletes is that a high level of fitness and big muscles bring forth sound health. But, the reality is lifestyle plays a greater role than does exercise in regulating the vital functions of the human body. Furthermore, although a modest amount of physical activity can aid health, studies show that after a certain point doing more exercise increases fitness but does not significantly promote additional health gains. Thus, health and fitness are not the same, nor do they necessarily follow each other.
In simple terms, fitness is a measure of your body’s ability to engage in, endure, and recover from an activity, such as jogging, weight training, or a yoga session. This said, a person can possess a great deal of fitness with regard to one activity, but not with regards to another. A bodybuilder, for example, may be supremely fit in the weight room, but gasp for breath during a first-time boxing match.
Although the level of fitness a person possesses is relative to a specific activity, there does exist a general component of physical ability. Running specialists, for example, are generally conditioned to perform well in a variety of aerobic activities, not just in their primary sport. Likewise, weightlifters are usually well conditioned for performing a variety of strength activities, both inside and outside of the gym. And folks, who regularly endure in both stamina-based and strength-based activities, typically possess a “wide-spectrum” of fitness.
Because fitness is related to physical capability, it is easy to understand why many people believe that a “fit” person must also be healthy. But consider that many a “fit” athlete over the years have died far before their time due to poor health. Jim Fixx, the famous athlete who popularized the sport of running, was one such person. Although he ran 10 miles each day as part of his training regime, he died at age 52 of a heart attack brought on by blockage in his coronary arteries. John Kelly, Junior was another such person. Despite being a champion oarsman and an Olympic medal winner, at age 58 he too died of a heart attack brought on by coronary disease. Reggie Lewis, a former star with the Boston Celtics basketball team, was yet another “fit” person who met an early death. He died of sudden cardiac arrest at age 27, during the prime of his career.
Now, my purpose here is not to portray that exercise is useless or does not promote health. I am a firm believer in daily exercise, and when done rationally a good workout does much to stimulate both the mind and body. However, no amount of exercise can overcome bad living habits. Health is by far most influenced by what we consume, by our state of mind, by how much rest and relaxation we get, and by other factors which have a direct effect upon the organs of the body. And, poor eating habits coupled with a high-stress lifestyle is a recipe for disaster, no matter how much you exercise or how great of an athlete you may be.
Unfortunately, many strength athletes believe that they are immune to heart disease and other ills of health because they look good on the outside. Nonetheless, no matter how terrific a person may look on the outside, their health depends primarily upon what is going on inside of their body.
I know a bodybuilder who once looked like a perfect specimen – good looks, tanned, rippling abs – you get the picture. In his prime, he appeared to be in perfect health, but his looks were deceiving. Shortly after this handsome guy underwent a medical checkup as a condition of employment, he was told by his physician that he was on collision course with death. His medical evaluation had revealed that he suffered from high blood pressure, and lab results indicated that his LDL blood cholesterol level was dangerously high. To make matters worse, upon further testing doctors discovered that this young man had partial blockage in a major artery of his heart. The physique specialist was utterly stunned with the finding. “I thought I was healthy as a horse,” he later told me.
Fortunately, my bodybuilding acquaintance received medical treatment for his ailments, and he has since improved his health through dietary and other lifestyle changes. But, he could have met an early death had he continued to believe that he was invulnerable to the evils of well-being by virtue of his well-developed muscles. So, let this serve as a warning. And remember, for good health what really counts is how you live, not how you train.