Decoding “healthy”

“You’re so healthy”.

“You look so fit and healthy”

“I wish I could be as healthy as you”

But I’ve got osteopenia and two stress fractures (not to mention the worst cold in the history of mankind, but that’s another story). How is that healthy? What are the metrics? Does fitness presume health? And why is our perception of health so skewed towards aesthetics and away from function?

On the outside, some markers of ill health are obvious: extreme high or low weight, skin problems, movement impairments, breathing issues. And being functionally fit does help to stave off a lot of lower level issues: it helps with arthritis, heart health, blood pressure, liver and kidney function. There is a line, however, where fitness blurs into something else – training for peak performance (in the context of an individual’s level of ability) can tip into maladaptive practices. Suppressed immune system (who doesn’t get sick after finishing a marathon or a big block of training?). Hormonal issues. Over use injuries.

I don’t know very many runners from the subset of “competitive amateurs”, who get it right. I really don’t. Some people can balance it for a while, only to succumb to the siren call of “do more, harder, longer”. Symptoms creep in, but why stop? It’s “healthy” to exercise! In the gym, I see hard work and dedication but I see the shady side too: overtraining, steroids, and compulsion.

So what’s healthy? I think it is possible to run 80+ miles per week and be healthy, if the nutrition is right and the mindset is solid. If it comes from a place of fear and denial, it isn’t healthy at all. Just because the body can, doesn’t mean the body should.

I think it’s possible to go hard in the gym given sufficient rest and recovery. But if six pack abs are the goal what happens when they appear? Then the pressure is to maintain them, and any loss of fitness becomes a failure. Not healthy, physically or mentally.

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