How do we create an exercise routine that is linearly improving our fitness levels AND our health, without trading one for the other?
That statement might make you scratch your head because we are so conditioned to believe that a fit person is a healthy person. We believe that as physical fitness rises, so does overall health. Unfortunately, the two are often not synonymous.
Health could be defined as the absence of disease.
Fitness could be defined as the ability to handle physical challenges.
A seemingly "fit" person can have loads of orthopedic issues, therefore not fall under the "healthy" category. In fact, many "fit" people have trouble handling everyday challenges like climbing stairs and sitting on a hard chair. They may look "fit," but by definition, they can't handle all the physical challenges in their lives, so they aren't classified as "fit" by this definition.
Likewise, a "healthy" person with no diseases could have little ability to handle physical challenges like lifting a heavy suitcase, and not be considered "fit."
Hence, the two terms "healthy" and "fit" are not synonymous.
Of course, fitness can improve health and visa versa. In an ideal world, we strive to have both. This is where exercise comes in. But not just any activity that makes you sweat and gets you moving will lead to health and fitness. Stay with me.
"Body by Science" by Doug McGuff, M.D., and John Little defines exercise like this:
"A specific activity that stimulates a positive physiological adaptation that serves to enhance fitness and health and does not undermine the latter in the process of enhancing the former."
Therefore, to be fit AND healthy, we have to exercise in ways that produce a positive adaptation.
Many activities in the fitness industry do not produce positive adaptation, therefore would not be linearly improving health and fitness. They either don't challenge the body enough, leading to no physiological adaptation (aka no increased muscle and tissue strength) they challenge the body too much (causing pain and orthopedic injuries, undermining "health"), or the intensity is sufficient, but the exercise selection is unsafe, again leading to orthopedic pathologies (click here to see my post called "What is Safe Exercise?").
As obesity started to become a major problem in our country, we began to accept exercise's benefits. At some point, SOMETHING was better than NOTHING. And at times, this is so true.
As more people began to accept exercise as a part of life, the industry grew. It doesn't take much background or knowledge to become a leader in the fitness industry since the customer base was so widespread and eager to find any way to incorporate exercise into their lives. Fitness became a booming industry and an opportunity to make money. Exercise became entertainment; it became competitive; it became a social activity. Although these things are good to attract more people to a healthy lifestyle, exercise trends emerged that weren't based in science and weren't necessarily "improving" health or fitness.
We've now come to assume ALL exercise is "healthy," no matter the intensity, frequency, force application, or volume. Unfortunately, this often leads to trading one piece of health for another. Exercise can often trade sedentary diseases like heart disease for orthopedic conditions like arthritis, tendinitis, tissue tears, and chronic pain.
Although you could easily argue that arthritis is easier to live with than heart disease (and I agree), it begs the question… can we exercise to improve our health all around? Can exercise be a tool for global health rather than just trading one symptom for another? Can we reduce our risk of developing heart disease AND orthopedic conditions?
The answer is yes. The solution is more straightforward than you would think.
Let's dive into what that means.
If you've ever dealt with chronic pain, you know how intrusive it can be. The reason for chronic pain has to do with stress. You have two systems that need to be balanced to keep your body healthy: the catabolic (breaking down) state and anabolic (building up) state. If there is an imbalance between catabolic and anabolic states, your health can suffer in one way or another.
To maintain a healthy and fit body (which is ideal), you have to undergo a certain amount of physical stress via exercise. This begins the catabolic (breaking down) process, which is necessary to build stronger tissue (the anabolic process).
However, there is a certain amount of rest that is required after a catabolic event. It is widespread (in my experience) for exercise enthusiasts to live in a chronically catabolic state. This happens because of inappropriate exercise that is too frequent. This person will develop chronic diseases like arthritis, osteophytes, tendinitis, etc. Essentially, they are not giving their body the rest it requires to build the tissue back UP that they are breaking DOWN in their workouts.
If you have these symptoms frequently, you probably have an imbalance between your catabolic and anabolic states. So if we want to be truly "fit" AND "healthy," we need to strike a balance. This will look a little different for each person.
A great way to determine YOUR balance between catabolic and anabolic is to do what I call an "exercise re-haul." This process takes about a month, sometimes more. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Assess
Start with assessing your strength. You can use a simple exercise like a push-up to track how many push-ups you can do at your max.
Also, assess how your body feels during certain movements. Do stairs hurt? Are you tight? Can you easily move your body? What movements feel tight, restricted, or painful? The more detail you can write down, the better.
Step 2: Remove exercise for one week
Only perform mobility exercises and walking to reset your body and nervous system (Click here to try my 10-minute mobility video).
Step 3: In week two, add in 2 focused strength workouts on non-consecutive days.
Here is an example of a circuit that is effective and safe: (repeat each circuit 3x through). Make sure to warm-up and cool-down.
Step 4: Reassess your strength and symptoms after one week.
If you've made progress, repeat that week for week three. If you haven't made progress, reduce the workout to once/week for week three, and return to step 3 for week four.
Step 5: Add in one more workout per week
After you've completed two weeks of workouts twice/week and are seeing progress in your symptoms, add one more day of strength training to your week. Return to step 4 to assess. Continue with this process until you've found the dosage of exercise that your body can tolerate without increasing symptoms.
If you want guidance with this, join my 7-day Strength School starting October 19th 2020! I will give you all the tools and education to use exercise to be "fit" AND "healthy." Click here to get signed up.