This is a transcript to the audio “What is Health?” that is available to Optimal Movement Members. For more information on membership click here.
Many people think health and fitness correlate with each other, this simply isn’t the case. Someone can be super fit (or even superman!) but this doesn’t mean this person is healthy. It may come as a revelation to some but as fitness goes up health can actually come down.
Before we go on, lets look at a couple of definitions of health and fitness:
Health: “A physiological state in which there is an absence of disease or pathology and that maintains the necessary biologic balance between the catabolic and anabolic states.”
Fitness: “The bodily state of being physiologically capable of handling challenges that exist above a resting threshold of activity.”
These are just two definitions chosen from a selection of many. They were specifically taken from a book called ‘Body by Science’, which puts forward research-based training programmes that are designed to develop both health and fitness (we’ll come back to this later).
A problem with the above definition of health is that it doesn’t include the psychological and social elements that are clearly influential and, before we go any further, it is important to let you know that this article was originally going to focus only the “physical” aspect to health. However, we changed this approach as a direct result to the situation we are currently in. If you are reading this post in the year 2030 then we’re in the heart of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
So, let’s note down some of the elements that we feel are important to health. We have split them into 3 categories – Physical, Social and Psychological.
The Elements of Health
According to the definition from “Body by Science”, to be healthy we need a balanced catabolic (breaking down) and anabolic (repairing) state in the human body. Our bodies are constantly having to deal with the challenges that we throw at them, the daily challenge of fighting off pathogens and surviving exposure to various elements are just a couple of them. If we can successfully adapt to the challenges we place on our bodies then we can class ourselves as being healthy. It is healthy to be in a catabolic state at times, as this is when the majority of our DNA repair happens (a very important process where damaged DNA molecules are repaired).
The catabolic state would have been a normal occurrence when we lived for survival as hunter gatherers. However, we now live in a world where food is easily accessible (although maybe not flour and rice at the moment!) Many jobs are also now very sedentary. We often counteract any overindulgence of food and overly-sedentary way of life throughout the day by doing lots of exercise. This is a great way to create a catabolic state, but can also cause a lot of wear and tear on the body. I’m sure you’ll agree that hobbling down the stairs in the morning following an intense workout doesn’t feel particularly healthy! There are many studies showing that an excessive exercise routine can lead to a suppressed immune system, osteoporosis, energy deficiency and an increased likelihood of developing organ dysfunction.
We can use various biomarkers to help measure and track physical health. Common markers such as lean muscle mass, adipose fat mass, stress hormone levels, blood glucose, LCL cholesterol and blood triglycerides are just a few. For example, studies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453303/ have shown that “muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders”. Body composition and relative strength are also key indicators of physical health.
The above insights are very useful in the right context but obsessing over one or just a few aspects can neglect the multi-factorial importance. Which leads us to the social part to overall health…..
We are living through a time in which a lot of us are going through an enforced period of social change; leading us to contemplate our social relationships, purpose and interaction with society. There is no doubt that this has an implication on our overall health.
As we all know, social isolation can be enforced by external as well as internal factors. As well as preventing the spread of a highly contagious virus, social isolation can be forced upon you through physical injuries, age advancement and mental illness. Simply moving house to a new area can cause social isolation. This decreases the size of one’s social network (not the digital type) and the number of interactions within the network.
Social isolation can lead to depression, increases in physical illness and loneliness. Loneliness is separate to social isolation, it is more subjective – a perceived deficit between the actual and desired quality and quantity of our relationships. It is for this reason that someone can be socially isolated but not lonely and someone can be lonely without being socially isolated. Loneliness comes down to perception. Take time to breath and contemplate that point as we are getting in quite deep.
Alongside isolation, there are other subsections to the social side of health and, like we mentioned, there are far more experienced professionals within this realm so we won’t go into them in too much detail:
– The quality of relationships we form
– The stress we surround ourselves with
– Our perception of stress (if you perceive something to be stressful then it elicits a stress response)
– Our purpose within society
All of these aspects will influence our social health and subsequently our overall health.
This aspect follows on from the social category. As you will be able to tell, there are many points that will crossover between the categories and we will just give a brief overview.
Psychological health can be influenced by:
– Your perspective
When you go through any experience, either positive or negative, you will react in a certain way. When we have time to reflect, it is easy for us to comprehend that we are in a more fortunate situation compared to many (whether that be in a physical, social or psychological way) but it’s sometimes difficult to apply this during an experience. Quite easily, your biased perspective can be the result of an irrational thought process. For example, the morning after a hard training session you step out of bed and experience a sharp pain in your left ankle. The pain stays with you throughout the day and you start to panic because you’ve spent the last 4 months training for a big race that is 2 weeks away. Although it’s been under 24 hours you start to (irrationally) write-off the race. We’ve all been there. It seems bizarre that you can write-off a race whilst also comprehending that your situation may not actually be as severe as you think. You experience “cognitive distortion” which leads to a biased and unhelpful perspective.
– The extent to which you feel valued
You are no doubt valued by many people but, leading on from the previous point, your perspective of being valued is more influential on your psychological health than the actual value people place in you. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety often arise from the perception of not being needed or being useful. This may not reflect the actual reality but that doesn’t mean we still can’t feel this way.
– Being influenced by negativity, self-doubt and the expectations of society.
You may frequently be surrounded by negative people whose negativity can rub off on you almost instantly. You may pick up on negative opinions that are purposefully designed to draw you in. These opinions can lead to you doubting yourself and your goals which in turn can affect your psychological health.
Everyone experiences self-doubt at some stage. You can have self-doubt in your knowledge or competency to perform something at work or in other aspects of your life. You can have self-doubt in your opinions. Perceived expectations of society can also lead you to doubt yourself. You may therefore end up doing things that you feel you “should” do rather than the actual things that will lead to true psychological health, and happiness.
A lot of what we have discussed focuses around the physical, social and psychological elements that can negatively effect health. Although we mention that surrounding yourself with negativity may not be great for someone’s health (we could be criticised for this!) we can now at least proceed with finding effective solutions to obtaining optimal health across all areas. Our “How to be Healthy” article will be available soon so stay tuned!