What is Healthy?

applied_public_health_health_protection_bannerOh great another general post where I am going to write on a huge topic and reach some common sense conclusion.  You’ve seen it done before so if your not interested in a walk down common sense lane then I suggest you redirect your word browser else where.  The “health and fitness” industry is not a small industry by any means:

  • Health and Fitness industry in the UK was worth £3.81 billion in 2011.
  • 11.9 per cent of the UK population are now registered as members of a health and fitness club or publicly-owned fitness facility.
  • Total industry membership base has seen a slight decline (0.3%) to 7.3 million over the past 12 months; however this is a 2% increase since 2008.
  • There are now 5,852 fitness facilities in the UK; down from 5,885 in 2010 and up 1.7% since 2008.


Ask someone what health is and you will get several different opinions on the topic many of them to be quite frank vacuous.  Health is a multi-factorial thing it encompasses physical well being, mental well being and what’s often overlooked in any writing on the topic emotional well being.  Whilst someone may be grossly overweight at the same time they could have a loving family structure and be happy in their professional life yet they eat KFC for breakfast, lunch and dinner?  Are they healthy?

I would venture that they are much “healthier” than many of the so called gurus in the health and fitness industry.  To be satisfied in the larger parts of your life family and career/life goals out weighs by far the healthiness of being involved in regular cardiovascular exercise, watching what you eat and having a visible six pack.

kfc-cappuccino with smile

Okay we get it, we get it there is more to life than exercise and nutrition but you still haven’t answered you original question what is healthy?

We can all accept I would venture that to be secure in your emotional and professional life is probably a more important place to be than to be in great physical shape but enough fluffy talk let’s deal with some things we can nail down.  What is physically healthy?

Is being an athlete or training like an athlete healthy?

I would answer this with an equivocal no when you are training to improve physical performance at almost all costs is not going to benefit your physical health optimally (if living longer is all you care about) it may however improve your life quality and self esteem for some this is far more important than how long they live.

There’s a well-known survey in sports, known as the Goldman Dilemma. For it, a researcher, Bob Goldman, began asking elite athletes in the 1980s whether they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal but would also kill them within five years. More than half of the athletes said yes. When he repeated the survey biannually for the next decade, the results were always the same. About half of the athletes were quite ready to take the bargain. – New york times 2010

Is it healthy to be so hell bent on success and performance probably not for some people but if all you want from life is to win an olympic gold or to get to the top of your sport in the professional game who the hell am I to determine what is healthy for you.

  • Is it physically healthy? Categorically no.
  • Is it healthy for you? If you want it more than anything than hell yes.

Is it healthy to be under or overweight?

BMI gets a bad wrap in a lot of fitness writing due to it’s non specificity to individual cases what we have here is someone getting mad at a hammer for being bad at undoing a screw.  BMI is a crude measurement designed to deal with large populations and epidemiological data.  It is nowhere near as accurate as a full DEXA scan for determining the body composition and health of an individual but when it comes to defining some trends from groups of 100,000s of people then it does a fine job.

Relative to normal weight, both obesity (all grades) and grades 2 and 3 obesity were associated with significantly higher all-cause mortality. Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality – JAMA. 2013

You can be categorised as obese and have abs if you are a heavily muscled athlete a lot of lifters and strength/power athletes will attest to their healthiness and their longevity prospects but there is no escaping truth and the fact’s speak for themselves.  Now we can only talk in probabilities here but if you are over or under your suggested “healthy weight” for your BMI then I have bad news for you my friend you are at an increased chance of premature termination of your employment with the company of existence.  Be it muscle or fat tissue the end results are the same increased stress on your heart and organs to keep you up and ticking, more tissue being involved in metabolic activities more oxidative stress means you are increasing your risk of all cause mortality.

Is it healthy to lose weight?

  • Are you overweight through your lack of control of your diet and exercise do are you not in control of your body weight?  Yes it would be healthy to lose weight and discover the liberation that comes from being in control of your own body.
  • Are you overweight because you choose to be overweight? Are you overweight because you want to perform better in your sport? Are you overweight because you love KFC more than you love old age? This is for you to decide if it doesn’t interfere with your emotional or professional health and you know what your doing than fuck it It’s healthy enough for you!

Great Fitness Model

Is it healthy to be in “great physical” condition 24/7?

I’m talking to you my “aesthetic” and body-building/fitness friends those whom form comes before function.  Sure you got sick abz but when was the last time you had 4-6 weeks of enjoying yourself completely without worrying once what your food or drink choice was doing to your physique?  I find the “if it fits my macros” IIFMM vs traditional healthy food wisdom hilarious your arguing the same thing your creating a calorie deficit for the sake of being leaner yet you want to argue the nuance of which is “healthier”.  Take a seat my fiend I have some bad news for you –

You are likely to suffer from some form of body dis-morphia.

Are you completely mentally happy? Are you satisfied with your accomplishments? Do you feel happy with those who surround you? Do you have a loving support network of family and friends?

If you can answer yes to all of the above questions then you know what just like our athletes who are willing to die with in 5 years for Olympic glory than I would consider you healthy.

If you can not answer yes to all of the above questions and look to your fitness/physique accomplishments as a funnel for your energy or even worse allow your fitness and physique objectives to stop you answering the above questions with an emphatic yes than you are probably not healthy.

I myself suffer from some mild form of body dismorphia and in my earlier years it caused me some mild unhappiness that I wasn’t in amazing shape I would often be the envy of quite a lot of my friends because I was in what they would consider to be great shape but I wouldn’t consider it to be as good as I wanted.

It never lead to any extremes such as anorexia or drug abuse (steroids etc) but it did mean I wasn’t as happy as I could be and If your not happy then your not healthy.

So what is healthy?

Like most things in life there is no yes or no answer, I can’t give you a magical cure all for your physical, mental or emotional woes but I can tell you in all of it’s nuance the following statement is true.

If what your doing doesn’t bring you happiness than it’s not healthy.