Health vs. Fitness And Why Running A Marathon Doesn’t Mean You Are Healthy

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Most of the confusion comes from how we use the terms Fitness and Health interchangeably. We think that just because we are fit enough to run a marathon that we must also be healthy. However, these two terms have very little in common and the fact that most of us don’t know the difference leads to a lot of problems.

This issue first came to my attention when I started noticing various runners in my group. A lot of them had various injuries or knee related problems, and battled various problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. They were fit to be able to run a marathon, but not healthy enough to live peacefully and effortlessly.

Fitness is simply the ability to do a task. Runners are fit for running, mountain bikers are fit for mountain biking, climbers are fit for climbing and so on and so forth. Being fit for one activity doesn’t mean you will be fit for another and it often requires that you take a few physical qualities to an extreme level.

Health is your ability to easily function on a daily basis without pain or disease. It is measured in things like blood tests and lack of “bad health”. It is also the ability to perform basic movements and tasks like easily getting up and down off the ground, touching your toes or hanging from a bar for 30 seconds. True health requires that you have a well rounded approach to things.

The problem is that most of us have been taught to look at everything through the lens of “fitness” and few recognize the “health” side of things as well. We glorify the top runners, cyclists, CrossFit competitors or athletes in different sports and call them the “fittest” people on earth. What we don’t see are the “health” problems they have as they suffer from joint pain, muscle strains and metabolic pressures that push the body to – and past – their limits.

And this leads to a lot of people who don’t recognize the dangers in destroying their body in training today instead of protecting it for future use. They equate the “fittest” person in a sport with someone who is also “healthy” and then follow the wrong path based on that mistake.

Now please don’t miss my point – I am not saying there isn’t something admirable about the sacrifices that top athletes make to achieve the levels of performance that they do. This isn’t about them, its about everyone else that doesn’t pay their bills based on their performance or has a chance to represent their country in some way.

It is common knowledge that athletes, actors, body builders, etc. use all sorts of supplements and compounds, sometimes steroids (that are legally accepted, and not abused) and haywire diets to get the results that they do. It is not only harmful, but also require top level professionals for guidance and care. And not to forget it’s damn expensive, usually paid for by sponsors or producers; and their livelihood depends on it.

For the rest of us, once you reach a certain age and your chances at athletic glory have passed – for most this is around 22 years of age – it is important to keep your goals in perspective. You only get one body and making sure that you can still play hard at 50+ years is important. It may not be worth it to suffer from joint pains or other problems and having to sit on the sidelines as you get older because you thought that being fit enough to run real fast was the same thing as being healthy.

Now look, the point of this is not to discourage anyone from running or riding bikes or trying to take their running to the next level. In fact, it is just the opposite.

I want to make sure that people enjoy running and can do it as long as they want to. A big part of getting better is logging a lot of running time and miles and it is hard to run if you are hurt. I also hate hearing about someone who quit running because they kept getting hurt or have an overuse injury that got so bad they had to have surgery.

Having your body break down and start to dictate how long and fast you can run really sucks.

My goal is to help people avoid the pitfalls that come with developing a few fitness qualities to a high level while ignoring others. Most of the runners I train with have issues in some way because they ignored their overall health for too long. After learning this lesson the hard way I often hear them tell him that they wish they had known all of this before they got hurt.

You get plenty of great things from running but there are things that you don’t get, like mobility and strength. There are also some hidden dangers that most people never even consider.

For example…

You don’t get the same movement from running like you do on the bike. When on a bike, you are holding onto the handlebars and your upper body doesn’t sway. Unless you do some things to combat that, spending hours and hours on a bike can actually start to cause some core strength issues that will affect you off the bike. This swaying motion in the upper body is important for core function and overall movement health.

On the contrary, a constant movement in biking will activate your hips and increase hip mobility, that traditional running or walking won’t focus much on.

Again, unless you understand the difference between Health and Fitness you might not appreciate why you need to keep these things in mind. Sure, getting an extra run in each week would be more fun but at some point you have to act like an adult and do what you need to do.

How would your waistline look if you took that same attitude of “I only want to eat what’s fun” with your diet? Probably not so good. Oh wait, that is a problem with a lot of people today. But that is getting off subject…

Anyway, this brings me to my last point. You don’t have to spend a lot of time to plug some of the gaps that running leaves. Spending 15 minutes a day doing some mobility work and doing some push-ups or swings and Goblet Squats 2-3 times a week can work wonders. Making small changes that you can sustain and build upon is the key to success and makes time much less of an issue.

So remember that you need to keep the dual lenses of Health and Fitness in mind when setting your goals. It is important to devise a plan or a regime, based on your current shortfalls, as well as current and past injuries. Sometimes measuring the success of a program based on how you have less pain, can move better or can function better in your work or daily life can mean more.

Funny thing is, though, a lot of times focusing on Health goals also improves your running fitness as well, which means you also become a faster runner.

Until next time…

Run Strong,

The Travellothoner

74 thoughts on “Health vs. Fitness And Why Running A Marathon Doesn’t Mean You Are Healthy

Add yours

  1. I’ve known a few elite and professional athletes, and to be frank, they usually have health problems. I’ve also known several very driven professionals in the corporate world. Their health tends to be pretty bad also. Health requires moderation in most things.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Dear The Tracellothoner

    I totally get where you are coming from. I have chronic high blood pressure and exercise under that much strain is not good for your heart health even if you are physically strong. I have to come to terms with this that fitness and health are two different things. I exercise but i also give the body rest to repair through calm and mindfulness.

    Thank you for a great post

    Jacqui

    Liked by 6 people

  3. I must say you never fail to motivate… Thanks a lot travellothoner for the post. I have one question… Do you think switching between running and cycling and jump roping will keep one fit and healthy at the same time (assuming the person has a healthy diet) ?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The fact that you’re being active in itself ensures that you’re doing well as far as taking care of your body goes.

      But it is important to note that excessive running and jump roping can cause some stress to your knees, especially if your legs are weak.

      Try to just add a couple of basic movements like squats and pushups to this mix, to keep your muscle strength constant while focusing on cardiovascular exercises!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! For me, health and fitness have been replaced with lifestyle. I have been able to conquer my Type 2 Diabetes with a paradym shift in my lifestyle that emphasizes healthy eating, exercise, and taking meds. At age 63, I feel blessed with where I am at now.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Agree totally! My understanding is that walking and swimming are probably the best exercises – and low impact on the joints. I’m in my 60s now, and everyone of those injuries you have in your 20s, that you thought you were free of, will come back to haunt you.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Nice one!!

    On Mon, May 27, 2019 at 11:11 PM The Travellothoner wrote:

    > thetravellothoner posted: ” Most of the confusion comes from how we use > the terms Fitness and Health interchangeably. We think that just because we > are fit enough to run a marathon that we must also be healthy. However, > these two terms have very little in common and the fact that ” >

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post and it needs to be said. I can vouch for the truth of this article. I started getting into bodybuilding hard at 28. Tons of heavy lifting 3-4 times a week, even if I was feeling exhausted. At 30 years old I herniated a disc in my neck which is going to stay with me for the rest of my life and has caused me nerve issues. Think of the big picture! I allowed my ego to carry me away on that one and it’s funny how quickly those muscles began to fade away. 😝 Not worth it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It works for people, and there are recognized professionals who help you through it, so I don’t want to say it’s bad.

      But it isn’t for me personally. I would rather workout harder and eat better food and ingredients. Something that is more sustainable in the long run 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s a nice article that you’ve written but you lost me somewhere in between as you started talking about shedding athletic dreams after 22 years of age or how a 50 years old struggles with physical activities.
    I am a 30 something and a diabetic who is also a marathoner and endurance cyclist. Moreover, I neither take steroids or use unnatural ways to perform or achieve my goals. Similarly my fellow riders or runner (most of them) thrive on sheer good eating habits, regular training and a strong will. As for being healthy it does has markers and parameters but logically an unhealthy person will not be able to undertake or complete strenuous physical activities you have mentioned in this post.
    I agree with you on the stress and pressure faced by actors and probably top athletes to perform which does lead to unfair means at times but the competition at that level and the necessity to maintain their spot entices them towards it which is definitely wrong.
    You have a flair for writing well researched articles and I would advise keeping emotions in check and verifying facts twice, not just from internet but actual people involved into those activities to present an unbiased and judgement free post. Hope it would be taken in the right spirit.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. In this context when I say health, I mean your overall health. And yes, there are people like you who take the right approach to it, and excel at it.

      But it is a fact that a vast majority of people don’t take that approach. I so seldom come across people in my gym who use pre-workout and post workout supplements, and then get a smoke just after they’re done. They’re fit people, some really ripped, but they’re not healthy.

      That is the context I am talking about in this article. And it is always nice to hear a different opinion. I am glad you took the time to say what you said. Thank you 🙂

      Like

      1. I do get it, the group you intend to target through this post but believe me, and I speak out of personal experience that they are a unique breed who have no regard for the right or wrong approach.
        And I do appreciate your efforts and intention to spread awareness 😊.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a really great article, many people do not understand the difference in health and ‘fit’. I’ve had people say to me “but you’re training for a marathon” and I’ve replied “And I shouldn’t be, but I’m stupid. I have GOT to give my body a break after this!” because I was injured, but still running….

    Liked by 3 people

  10. The Travelothoner,
    Whatever you wrote made so much sense. Wish more people could read it. 2 years ago I totally needed someone to tell me this. I was pushing my limits way too hard and infact I’ve just posted about it today. On how over-working out is really not needed and we need to balance with what your body actually needs. “Everyday Im (not) Hustling”. Do read my experience I might get a good insight from you.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. This is great! Its easy to assume people like this are healthy, but good conditioning doesn’t = good health. Nutrition is also a huge factor in in the matter. Check out my blog on training with a partner, I think you might enjoy it!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I love this post! Health vs. fitness 2 different things and people really do forget. I already see so many people in there 20s putting so much strain in their bodies now that they forget what the downfall can be later on. #FITafter30

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is so true and often the most ignored thing. I used to be following heavy on the motto ‘train hard every time, push yourself every rep’ until my ankle fracture. Then I started respecting and incorporating a lot of mobility exercises, body balance as well as cycling (actual and stationary). Plus the importance of listening to your body and not forcing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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