What is the Relationship Between Physical Fitness and Health?

It would be hard to argue that you are fully healthy if you don’t take part in some form of regular exercise, or at least live a somewhat active lifestyle. It is hard to maintain an active lifestyle without improving your overall health.

fitness and health

Keeping fit should be a priority for anybody for whom it’s an option. It’s hard – though not impossible – to be fit without being healthy, as many of the biometric markers for health will necessarily need improvement in the pursuit of physical fitness.

Looking after your physical fitness will lead to greater wellbeing and longevity; looking after your health will allow you to maintain your fitness.

Maintaining or improving your fitness will also bring about a great many explicit health benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Giving you more energy
  • Improving your mood
  • Boosting cognitive function
  • Easing symptoms of stress and depression
  • Strengthening your immune system
  • Improving your mobility
  • Helping you to reach and/or maintain a healthy weight
  • Improving your cardiovascular and respiratory systems
  • Maintaining healthy muscles
  • Maintaining healthy bones
  • Reducing your likelihood of suffering from many chronic diseases, including:
    • heart disease,
    • obesity, and
    • type 2 diabetes

Health and Fitness: Two Complimentary Yet Different Beings

We can see, therefore, that health and fitness go hand in hand. One cannot easily be disentangled from the other, and each will help to improve the other.

active lifestyle

But what are they as individual beings? What does it mean to be fit and healthy?

Health is the state of the entire body and all of its systems. If the body and its systems are all functioning the way they ought to be, we can call it healthy; if they are not, we can call it unhealthy to the degree to which they are not.

Fitness is also to do with the state of the body – hence health and fitness’ intimate nature. However, it focuses specifically on a few select facets of the body’s state, namely:

  • The muscular system
  • The nervous system
  • The skeletal system
  • The cardio-respiratory system
  • The energy systems

We can describe a body as fit in so far as these systems are all functioning optimally. Thus, if an area of the body outside of these systems is impaired, yet these systems are all functioning optimally, we can call that body ‘fit’ without it being ‘healthy’.

I would struggle to make the inverse argument: if any of the body’s fitness systems were impaired, I would consider it a strike against the body’s health.

Thus, we need to maintain our health as an entity, our fitness as an entity, and trust that improving and maintaining our fitness will count a large way towards improving our overall health.

Health is not just a lack of disease: it is the coming together of a complex array of varying factors that represents your vitality, including your physical, mental and social well-being. All of these are boosted to greater or lesser degrees by regular exercise.

According to WHO?

My working definition of fitness is to have the above systems working either optimally, or close to it. However, the World Health Organization defines it as ‘the ability to perform work satisfactorily’.

This presents a lower bar, especially depending on your own definition of ‘satisfactory’. However, this is a good thing. We cannot all be Usain Bolt, nor should we. We cannot all live our lives to increase our running speed and explosive power output, and we cannot all judge our fitness by these kinds of metrics.

WHO offers some elaboration. A specific level of exercise recommended for all adults, no matter what other factors might be at play, has been shown to provide pretty much all of the health benefits mentioned above.

Above and beyond this level, we are subject to diminishing returns. This level will provide protection from many chronic health conditions and will improve and maintain muscular, skeletal and cardiovascular health.

It’s an easier level than you might think. WHO recommend a minimum of around half an hour of exercise per day, five days per week. This can, of course, be split differently: two hours a couple of times per week, or several ten minute sessions per day, will also work.

This time should be made up of activities that raise the heart rate appropriately. Think of fast walking or slow jogging; weightlifting or vigorous yoga; swimming, boxing, or even just working on an elliptical trainer.

Of course, more is often better, within reason. However, if you manage nothing but this amount, you can consider yourself healthy.

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James Dixon

James Dixon is a fully qualified personal trainer and award winning writer, with a decade’s worth of experience under his belt. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of people to meet their dietary and fitness goals, writing exercise and nutrition plans to suit any and every requirement.

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