Sometimes people say they are healthy, but not ‘fit’ or strong. When people say this they mean they have a healthy diet and therefore a good weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Therefore, they say “I’m healthy, I’m just not in good shape.”
Unfortunately you can’t have one without the other. The wrong turn here seems to be that they believe the goal of exercise is to lose weight and improve readings like your blood pressure and cholesterol. If that’s true, if you’re already thin and don’t have problems with blood pressure/sugar/cholesterol you must already be healthy. But ‘healthy’ is not a shortcut word for weight or blood pressure.
What Is Health?
The goal of exercise – and diet, and one of the goals of life – is to be healthy, which means to have the physical condition a human body should. The physical benefits of exercise are over and above basic measurements in the annual physical. They are experienced throughout your life.
For one, strength and fitness make your experience of life better. They make daily tasks easier, especially as you age. For example, I’ve known people in their 30’s with a ‘healthy’ weight and blood pressure who don’t exercise or strength-train. They are the people whose backs hurt – badly – after doing something as easy as raking leaves, or who become out of breath playing with their kids, or whose knees hurt too much to play with them at all.
Their backs will continue to get worse as they get older. Part of any joint pain is often muscle weakness that makes the joint less stable. As muscles naturally deteriorate with age, people who start with less will end with less. This means having trouble with daily activities sooner in life – perhaps decades sooner – than someone who maintained strength and endurance.
Strength also helps avoid injuries directly and recover from those you receive. The stability conferred by strength – and improved coordination from using your body regularly – helps prevent accidental injuries in daily life. If you are stronger and have better reflexes, you are less likely to trip over your dog and sprain your ankle. I’ve known young people who have hurt themselves in this way.
This benefit will only grow as you get older. Strength training is a great treatment for arthritis, having been shown to reduce pain by up to a third in studies as well as to help prevent further deterioration. Strengthening exercises can also help with back pain – back pain often worsens over time as muscles atrophy due to favoring the painful area. Strength and coordination also help with osteoporosis later in life – this condition affects both sexes – by helping strengthen your bones and giving you better ability to catch yourself instead of falling.
Mind and Body
Finally, because mind and body is a false dichotomy, physical exercise makes your brain more resilient and helps you to be more emotionally and psychologically healthy. This is likely due to the increased blood flow and the chemicals your body produces. But it has tremendous effects. For example, exercise – including strength training – helps combat or prevent depression. This is perhaps not surprising when considered in the opposite direction – depression has been skyrocketing even as our physical activity has plummeted. Another example is that both cardiovascular exercises and weight-lifting can improve memory over time.
Being healthy therefore means maintaining a combination of strength, fitness, and healthy diet throughout your life. It’s part of reaching your full potential in mind, body, and soul.