It’s always nice to receive a compliment. “Hey, you’re looking healthy” sounds nice and much better than the alternative.
But would you rather hear, “Hey, you look fit?” Let’s explore the definitions to see which is better and why. First, we will look at the medical definitions of health and fitness offered by Merriam-Webster.
”Health” is the condition of an organism or one of its parts in which it performs its vital functions normally or properly; especially: freedom from physical disease and pain.
”Fitness” is the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductively fertile offspring as compared to competing organisms.
From the definitions, I observe the two words are related in that they are both describing physical condition. But the words are not equal, and one is superior to the other. My understanding is that they are landmarks on the continuum of physical condition. Drawn out it looks like this: Diseased ---- Healthy ----- Fitness.
With this design, I see “healthy” as the minimum standard for a surviving person. Anything below “all systems normal” is not healthy and possesses some level of disease. So, for a “glass half empty” type of person, the compliment could be re-worded as “Hey, you look disease-free.”
Hmmm, doesn’t have the same ring to it and actually might offend me just a little.
”Fitness,” on the other hand, is a level above being healthy. It is a being who is thriving, and, according to definition, is superior in condition than those around him or her. Now, I’m not interested in promoting competition among people, but I am interested in those characteristics that influence the outcome of longevity and quality of life: strength, endurance, flexibility, intelligence, adaptability, etc.
So, what is the practical application? Said another way, “Why should I be fit versus healthy?”
Your physical condition plays a role in the cost of many things you purchase. A specific example of this is life insurance. My insurance provider gave my condition a “grade” to determine my rates. On that scale, “fit” was a better rate than “healthy,” which will save me a lot of money over the 30-year term. Again, this is just one example.
Having greater physical capacity allows the option to participate in more life events. When life offers an opportunity to work, play, explore or whatever, I want the choice to say “yes!” Yes, healthy people can do this too, but I’d prefer to have more than the minimum.
It seems risky to me to have “just enough” physical capacity to be healthy, because bodies break sometimes, even good ones. When that happens, I don’t want to fall below the line. Instead, I will work to improve my condition to have extra when I need it, and enjoy the benefits of the “extra” when things are going well.
As the definition of fitness mentions, I am interested in passing along good things to my children that will serve them and their families long after I am gone. Body care, and the principles and benefits associated with it, is one of those things. I don’t want my children to settle for the minimum, I want them to thrive, and it’s my job to teach them.
Bottom line: Healthy is good, fitness is better. Strive for better. The time, money and discomfort is worth the return, especially the first time you hear, “You’re looking fit!”
Mark Moreland is the owner of Body Outfitters Personal Training Studio in Zionsville and has 13 years of experience as a personal trainer. Mark welcomes your comments and ideas for future topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.