The terms health and fitness are often used interchangeably but they’re different, although often related.
The World Health Organization defines health as: “A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”.
There’re various definitions of fitness, but commonly it’s stated as: “The ability to fulfil a particular role or task”.
We can therefore see that fitness is specific, so we may be fit to walk but not to run and that a certain level of health may be required to perform a specific task. Similarly, the fitness required to be a sprinter, requiring power and speed, is different from that being a distance runner, needing endurance. This makes it difficult to ascertain who is the “fitter” person.
Common measures of health and fitness include:
COMPONENTS OF HEALTH
- Blood pressure – ideally thought to be 120/80
- Resting heart rate – “normal” range is 60-100 beats per minute
- Cholesterol levels – below 5 is desirable
- BMs (blood sugar levels) – again below 5 is desirable
- BMI – body mass index, ideal range 18.5 – 24.9
COMPONENTS OF FITNESS
- Cardiovascular (CV) – aerobic endurance
- Muscular strength
- Muscular endurance
- Body composition – body fat%
Let’s look at these further and see how they may be related.
Blood pressure (BP) is a product of complex interactions in the body and tends to increase with age, with high BP, hypertension, starting at 140/90. It’s an important health measure as It is known that hypertension is a risk factor for a stroke and heart attack. Being overweight (high BMI) and a lack of physical exercise can lead to high BP. However, being slim and exercising does not guarantee optimal BP as there’re other factors, such as genetics. It’s therefore possible to be “fit” but not have a healthy BP.
A low resting heart rate (RHR) is also often an indication of good CV fitness. Endurance athletes such as cyclists and runners often have low RHRs (in the 30s and 40s) but the person with the lowest RHR is not necessarily the fittest. Also, older people may have low RHRs which can be a sign of heart disease and may require a heart pacemaker. The average RHR is about 70 bpm. It’s a good idea to know your normal RHR as an elevated level could indicate you’re fighting a virus or over exercising or sleeping poorly – in other words, your health is being compromised.
BMI is still being used widely by GPs and other health professionals as a measure of health, but it can cause anomalies. For example, a rugby player who is very muscular may have a BMI over 30, putting them into the obese category when they have low body fat. Increasingly it’s being recognised that waist measure is a better health indicator. Ideally your waist, as measured around the umbilicus, should be less than half your height.
Flexibility is partly genetically dependent, and the lack of flexibility is sometimes cited as a cause of injury and reduced performance. However, research has shown little evidence that stretching before exercise reduces the risk of injury and there may be a limit to how much we can improve our flexibility. Some people can be too flexible and have hypermobility syndrome, increasing the risk of joint dislocations.
Strength training through weights is often the exercise of choice for young men. However, it’s more important that the elderly engage in such activity as over the age of 70 there’s a sharp increase in muscle wastage leading to frailty and a risk of falling.
With the increasing rise in obesity and its effect on health, the term “metabolic syndrome” is now being used. This is when there’s a combination of diabetes, hypertension and obesity in a person. This greatly increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and fatty liver disease. By improving nutrition and exercising this can be reversed and so improve health and fitness.
Some sports people aim for extreme fitness but in doing so compromise their health. For example, female distance runners may limit their food intake to reduce their body fat % but in doing so weaken their bones, leading to stress fractures.
As the old maxim states, it’s better to be 100% healthy and 90% fit than vice versa!
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