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

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 enough 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 very 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 of 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, it’s 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, bodybuilders, 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 requires top-level professionals for guidance and care. And not to forget it is 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 simply 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 as 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 while you’re 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 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 anyway. 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 as little as 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 only means you also become a better runner.

Until next time…

Run Strong,

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