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The Difference Between Fitness and Health

I see a lot of confusion regarding the difference between things like health vs. fitness, fat loss vs. muscle gain, fat loss vs. health, weightlifting vs. cardio, and so on. There are lot of arguments online about this stuff. There is probably no definitive answer on these topics either. Regardless, I will give you the system that I follow. I’ve copied this system from health experts who are far more knowledgeable on these topics than I am. 

Apparently most people consider health and fitness to be the same thing. They aren’t. While related, they are two very different things.

You can have a man who is 100% healthy in every way by every measurement doctors and modern science can discern (such as lipid panel, hormonal levels, endurance, basic strength and mobility, cardiac health, and so on) yet who can’t bench press 220 pounds.  

Does that mean he’s not healthy? 

Of course not. 

At the same time, I personally know a guy who is a huge bodybuilder type who is fucking ripped with six packs. The problem is when he walks up a big flight of stairs he huffs and puffs like a little old lady, yet I can run up the same flight of stairs with no problem even though I probably have almost triple his body fat percentage.  

Does that mean I’m more physically fit than he is? 

Of course not. 

The best definitions are as follows: Health means all the systems of the body are functioning at optimum levels, or very close to it. Fitness means the ability to accomplish athletic tasks.

Sometimes these two things are closely related.

Sometimes they’re not related at all. 

If you do one of those three-hour comprehensive full-body physicals and get A+ marks on literally everything, you’re healthy, even though you may not have the physical ability to bench press 300 pounds or run a marathon. You have a high degree of health but perhaps an average (or even borderline low) level of fitness.

If you jack yourself up with a pile of anabolic steroids, blast your total testosterone to 4,000, spend hours a day lifting weights but never do any stretching or cardio, your fitness level is extremely high, and you probably look great, but your health is fucking terrible. 

You can be healthy but not “fit” at all. You can be physically “fit” but also very unhealthy at the same time. And of course, you could be both healthy and fit, which I agree is the ideal. 

When I was a young guy in my twenties, I didn’t give a shit about health. I focused 100% on fitness, which is not unusual for young men. When I was 21 I would work out at the gym and lift weights for two hours straight with no stretching and only five minutes of cardio on the treadmill, which I hated. Like a lot of gym rat guys, I loved lifting weights, but I hated cardio with a passion.

Then, on the way home from the gym, exhausted and sweaty, I would stop off at the local Dunkin Donuts. I’d order half a dozen doughnuts, eat at least four of them in the car on the way home, and finish off the rest as soon as I got back to my apartment.

Yes, I would really do this. Because of my 21-year-old metabolism, I looked the best I’ve ever looked. I didn’t have a six-pack, but I had large, visible muscles despite my horrible diet. I used to do shirtless bicep poses in the mirror all the time. We didn’t have the internet way back then, but if we had, I’m sure my dumb ass would have posted plenty of douchebag shirtless mirror shots on Instagram.

My typical meals back then were two bowls of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cereal with 2% milk for breakfast, mounds of white rice and chicken soaked in Teriyaki sauce for lunch, and a bagel-dog or two for dinner. (That’s a long hot dog completely wrapped in a bagel-like bun that I would dip in ketchup. I would buy them in bulk from Costco and keep them in my freezer.)

I was reasonably fit, but I was unhealthy as fuck. I didn’t get a lot of sleep and I never drank anything other than milk. I had big, fun muscles and I was able to one rep max bench press 240 pounds (I think that was the number; it was a long time ago so I could be wrong), but my diet was shit and I was sleepy and irritable much of the time.  

Once I entered my forties I realized that I not only needed to lose a lot of weight (most of which I’ve already lost; still working on it) but also that I really needed to focus on health instead of just fitness

Before some of you freak out, regular exercise is needed for maximum health. I’ve lifted weights off and on for about 15 years. Since late last year I’ve been exercising hard five times per week, but unlike when I was a kid, it’s not just resistance training. It’s stretching, mobility exercises, resistance training, and cardio. All of that stuff. It takes me about an hour.  

I don’t exercise for fitness reasons. I really don’t care how much I bench press or what my one rep max is on my deadlift. I’m almost 50I just don’t give a shit about those kinds of numbers anymore. (When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I cared a lot about that stuff.)

I don’t even exercise for fat loss reasons because exercise is only about 5% of the equation when it comes to fat loss. The other 95% is what you put in your mouth. During my weight loss journey I learned very quickly that you can blow your brains out with exercise (of any kind) for an hour a day but if you have just two pieces of pizza you’ll destroy that entire workout within two minutes.

Instead, I exercise for health reasons. I do it mainly for daily energy (I have more energy and am a clearer thinker when I exercise) and longevity (I will live longer and with less health problems if I exercise vigorously and regularly). And sure, maybe that exercise helps me a little tiny bit on the fat loss side. Okay. But that’s still not why I do it. 

In terms of Alpha Male 2.0, here’s the baseline for your physical life:

Health is optional for men under the age of 35. This is because usually when you’re that young, you can ignore your health, even fuck with your health, and still be a reasonably functional person. This is not true once you cross over into your late thirties. 

Health is a mandatory priority for men over the age of 35. As an Alpha Male 2.0, a lot of energy is required, and you’ll never be monogamous, and you can’t rely on the government to pay a shitload of your medical bills as you get older. This means you must address your health on a daily and weekly basis once you hit age 35 whether you want to or not.

Fitness is an optional hobby for all ages. Health is something that is required. Fitness, on the other hand, is something you do because you enjoy it. You don’t need to do it, but you certainly can if it’s something you love and find important. As an Alpha Male 2.0, you have to be healthy, but you don’t have to have 17inch biceps. If you want 17inch biceps, that’s great. Go for it. But it’s not required. It’s purely optional. Fitness is a hobby, not a requirement. 

Using a one-to-ten scale, my personal, long-term goal is to get my health to a 10 and my fitness to at least a 7 and ideally an 8. I’m 100% focused on my health first, since I’m at the age where that makes the most sense. Once my health is at 10, or at least 9, and my body fat is down to a healthy percentage and the doctors all tell me from my various tests that I’m healthy as I can get based on my age, then I’ll slowly start to beef up my fitness levels (meaning muscle mass for me) to a 7-8. That fitness part will take a very long time, and that’s fine with me, since my fitness is just something I’m doing for my own desires.

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13 Comments

  1. Pseudonymous User

    Are the seedy links intentional?

  2. blugreenguitar

    Great points – I tend to think in a similar fashion, especially in regards to fitness and health.

    Instead, I exercise for health reasons.

    Great to hear – I think in the long run, this is most important.  Also, I do want to focus on health metrics, like blood tests, etc.

    Health is optional for men under the age of 35

    Though not always necessary, I think a lot guys would really see a positive results by working on their health earlier, like mid to late 20s. Many guys already have injuries by their mid-20s, and a lot of them don’t heal correctly.  It can (impatience, mostly) create a situation that results in compromised health and fitness by their mid-30s.

    As a fairly serious amateur athlete, I probably should have started thinking more about health and fitness before I reached my late 20s.  I certainly did by the time I hit 30, and it has really been a great investment in time and energy.

    Apparently most people consider health and fitness to be the same thing.

    I would propose 3 categories:

    Healthiness/Wellness
    Fitness
    Athleticism

    Swole vs Fit

    Fitness means the ability to accomplish athletic tasks.

    If someone is huffing after going up a flight of stairs, they may be swole or ripped, but not really that fit, at least not in my book.

    Fitness vs Athleticism

    According to Components of Fitness:

    Fitness

    cardiorespiratory endurance
    muscular strength
    muscular endurance
    flexibility
    body composition

    Athleticism

    muscular power
    speed
    balance
    coordination
    accuracy
    agility

    For example, a bodybuilder can have all of the above.  But if a bodybuilder can’t really make it up a flight of stairs, then they probably only have strength and body comp at that time.  And you can be athletic but not really fit, like Babe Ruth maybe?

    If someone if more interested in functional utility, then a lot of modern workout theory suggests to train for the traits of athleticism, in addition to fitness.  There’s lots of exercises that incorporate both athleticism and fitness.

    While not necessary, I definitely want to be healthy, fit and athletic.  I definitely understand that not everyone has these same goals, but hope everyone does take care of their health/wellness.

    Right now, a combo of yoga and weight/functional training with some cardio is probably the best option for me. I would recommend (non-expert opinion) something similar to guys in their 30-40s for sure.

     

     

  3. Axel

    Great post! Like your recent post on income this clears up a lot of SP I had when it comes to my physical life.

    What I take away from this is health is nailing the basics: Sleep, Diet, and Exercise and fitness is how you perform different exercises against an objective standard.

    Another puzzle solved. Thanks Caleb!

     

  4. Alen

    Since we’re talking about health what about this new hit wonder Korona virus? I’m personally not taking any special precaution but people aroung me are border lunatic. I work in a company that sell among other things hygienic products and they are going like crazy. i can’t fucking believe this! People in whole Europe are in panic mode. My personal opinion is it’s like other disease. A small virus, hits you if your health condition is poor and will go away in time. But what interests me are these:

    1. Indexes are low! World IS reacting to it, be it bullshit or not. Will this be short or long term thing? Can we know it at all?

    2. What if cure is not found in time, and it spreads (altough doubt it).

    3. Is it possible that it’s artificial disease created in labs and purposely thrown in the world to get rid of old people? (I know we’re bordering on conspiracy theories now)

    4. What is your opinion on subject? Honestly haven’t read it spread to much in USA or Russia unlike China and Europe, At least according to news, and we all know how “objective” they are.

    I know it’s not directly connected to fitness and I strayed from main theme a little but if it will be a factor to consider in bussines, travel, making money, alpha 2.0 life etc… it would be good to know your opinion.

  5. Caleb Jones

    Though not always necessary, I think a lot guys would really see a positive results by working on their health earlier, like mid to late 20s.

    That’s accurate. My position is that regular exercise and having a near-ideal diet is a decently large commitment of time, energy and willpower, so the work vs reward ratio is a lower for men under 35.

    As a fairly serious amateur athlete, I probably should have started thinking more about health and fitness before I reached my late 20s. I certainly did by the time I hit 30, and it has really been a great investment in time and energy.

    True. A guy who is already focusing on health in his 20s / early 30s would have an easier time making the transition to 35+, rather than saying, “Oh man, now I have to start exercising…” Good point.

    Healthiness/Wellness
    Fitness
    Athleticism

    Yeah I get your point but I’m trying to keep this is as simple as possible. Most of normal society would indeed consider a guy with huge muscles and 8% body fat who  can bench press hundreds of pounds as “fit” even though he would huff and puff after climbing a bunch of stairs, rightly or wrongly. (Shit, even many in the fitness world would consider him “fit.”)

    Another puzzle solved. Thanks Caleb!

    You’re very welcome.

  6. bluegreen

    Most of normal society would indeed consider a guy with huge muscles and 8% body fat who can bench press hundreds of pounds as “fit” even though …

    Good points, thanks!

  7. Freevoulous

    One important thing to consider, even when you are under 30, is to always take inflamation-causing diseases (like a cold or a flu) seriously, and never let them go their course untreated. Repeated inflamatory diseases damage your lungs, heart, sinuses, teeth and immune systems permamently.

    SImply put:

    take a sick day if you are really sick
    see the doctor immediately
    take your prescribed medicine religiously
    when its cold outside, wear a hat and a scarf
    avoid dating, or interacting with people who have the flu

    • Caleb Jones

      when its cold outside, wear a hat and a scarf

      I’m no doctor but I”m pretty sure that one is false SP. Being cold doesn’t give you a cold or flu. I agree with the other items on your list though.

  8. joelsuf

    I had big, fun muscles and I was able to one rep max bench press 240 pounds (I think that was the number; it was a long time ago so I could be wrong)

    Big, fun muscles yet your high bench press single was only a little over 225? My high bench single was 265 at one point and my physique has never been impressive. How much did you weigh back then? I mean I weigh 200 or so and my current one-rep max on the bench is 255.

    What was your military press, squat, and deadlift back then? I’ve given up on deadlifts cuz there are much better options. But I still go crazy on the squat and military press. I want to squat 405 for a single by my 38th birthday.

    I agree with most of this article, but I still believe that health and fitness are practically one in the same.

    I’d say the key to both health and fitness for any gender is to do intermittent fasting (only eat in an 8 hour block, 4 hours is better tho), take a 24 to 72 hour fast (water only) per month (not difficult to do once you have done it a few times), stay away from processed carbohydrates (carbs in general actually), lift weights 6 days a week, do cardio 1 to 2 times a week (5k run or walk uphill for a half hour) if you are fat.

    That’s what I’ve been doing the past year. Got sick a couple times cuz it was such a radical change but I’m able to sleep 6 or 7 hours a week and maintain good energy levels all day with very little pain. The only pain I have is stuff that the 35+ crowd has anyways (lower back etc).

    I’m doing waaaaaay better than most of my buddies who need to take all kinds of stuff just to stay awake. I can go on water only for two straight days and feel just fine. My goal for 2020 is to go 96 straight hours without food. Quite the challenge but I’m up to it haha.

  9. Caleb Jones

    Big, fun muscles yet your high bench press single was only a little over 225?

    No. I said it was around 240. At least that’s my memory. I could be wrong, like I said. I don’t remember what I weighed back then but I know it was well over 195 pounds since that was my high school weight. And I’m just over 5’10” so I’m not sure how tall you are. I don’t remember any of my other weight lifting numbers from back then. Just the other day I was trying to rack my brain remembering what my squat was; I just don’t remember. It was almost 30 years ago.

  10. Caleb Jones

    Since we’re talking about health what about this new hit wonder Korona virus? I’m personally not taking any special precaution but people aroung me are border lunatic. I work in a company that sell among other things hygienic products and they are going like crazy. i can’t fucking believe this! People in whole Europe are in panic mode. My personal opinion is it’s like other disease. A small virus, hits you if your health condition is poor and will go away in time.

    Correct. Humans are irrational. They like to freak out about things that won’t matter in a year: Y2K, swine flu, nuclear war with North Korea, Coronavirus, etc.

    1. Indexes are low! World IS reacting to it, be it bullshit or not. Will this be short or long term thing? Can we know it at all?

    Short term.

    2. What if cure is not found in time, and it spreads (altough doubt it).

    2% Rule. And you don’t need a cure, just a vaccine.

    3. Is it possible that it’s artificial disease created in labs and purposely thrown in the world to get rid of old people? (I know we’re bordering on conspiracy theories now)

    Irrelevant. You shouldn’t care.

    4. What is your opinion on subject? Honestly haven’t read it spread to much in USA or Russia unlike China and Europe, At least according to news, and we all know how “objective” they are.

    The virus isn’t a problem. The problem is the over-reaction to it, which will be a problem for a few months, but that’s about it.

    FYI I’m spending an entire month in Eastern Europe / Western Asia next month. My travel plans did not change one inch because of this thing.

  11. Dandy Dude

    @joelsuf

    Big, fun muscles yet your high bench press single was only a little over 225? My high bench single was 265 at one point and my physique has never been impressive.

    […]I’m just over 5’10” so I’m not sure how tall you are.

    Yeah, this makes all the difference. One of my best friends recently started training at the same gym I go to, so we worked out together a couple of times. Going by how big we look, you’d think he’s stronger than me, but I outlift him on all the major lifts by a good margin. I’m 6’3″ and he is 5’7″.

    @Caleb

    An addendum to the idea of not worrying about health when you’re younger: if you have some serious condition, fixing it or at least getting it under control should (obviously) be your top priority.

    • Caleb Jones

      An addendum to the idea of not worrying about health when you’re younger: if you have some serious condition, fixing it or at least getting it under control should (obviously) be your top priority.

      Correct. But that’s the exception to the rule.