Health vs Fitness

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I recently reconnected with someone after 12 years. More colleagues than friends then, we are getting to become good friends now. Lets call her N. The one thing everyone will notice about N is how fit she looks. At 44, she is lean and toned. Chat with her and you will hear about the long distance running, trekking expeditions and cycle rides she has done. These days she is into swimming, so does about 1.5 km each day. Puts me to shame each time we talk about sports or the outdoors, for I am nowhere near her ability and I am the one who served in the Army!

But of late, now that our friendship is growing, she talks about how stiff her body gets, how she feels a bit bloated post meals and how her knees pain. 

This took me back to how I had discovered long ago that fitness and health are not the same thing. I am reminded of the 6 months of gruelling Army training, when we were all as fit as dogs (yes, that’s how we were referred to) but I was simultaneously plagued by constipation, acne and didn’t get my periods for 5 whole months! Also the year 2008, when I was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the spine and went through a major surgery. Imagine my shock, for all this happened at a time when I was gymming, playing lawn tennis and generally being very active. My only complaint from time to time  was an aching left shoulder.

Seeking another opinion, I asked another friend who actually works in the fitness and health space, what she thought. Forever the articulate south Indian, she defined fitness as ‘ functional’ . She elaborated: as long as you can do the activities of your life with ease, you are fit. Be able to pick up your grandchild, play with your children without fatigue, run your errands, etc. Her definition appealed to me. I then looked at what I had written down earlier this year for myself (part of my finding life purpose and setting intention kind of stuff):

  • To be free in my physical body: to have more physical energy, free movement, freedom from all illness and aches and pains
  • To feel a sense of balance if not all then most of the time
  • To be able to listen to my body and with my body

After I set the above intentions, I wondered for a long time how I would achieve them. Ever since the age of 8, I have engaged with the outdoors and played most sports. I played all the racquet games in my teenage years and 20s, and took to running, cycling and swimming in my 30s. Yet I knew deep down, that these would be inadequate to achieve the above. Two months back I started with a serious yoga practice. Again having dabbled in it for years I have only now made it into a daily one and a half hour routine. I do what some call Yin or flow yoga which is all about holding each position for as long as comfortable and feeling the sensations inside yourself. I do most of it with my eyes closed.

But old ways of being die hard and when a friend suggested we sign up for the upcoming Triathlon, I jumped at the suggestion. Raring to go, I dived into a 5 day a week training scheduled, setting some weight loss targets as well in the process.

I soon realised, I was slipping back into my erstwhile life, where heightened activity was leading to a state of dis-balance. I know through experience that excessive physical activity can cause over stimulation of the nervous system, resulting in disturbances. I knew that I needed to balance the triathlon training with my practice of yoga and have switched gears since, alternating between the two.

Whether you play sports, take walks, do housework, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a definition of health and the activities you do take you closer to that definition. Otherwise it might be time to switch gear.

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