Zionsville Times Sentinel

Commentary

July 10, 2013

Aim for health not just fitness

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?”

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