Back in the early 2000s Greg Glassman, founder and creator of CrossFit, set out to truly define what it is to be “fit.” As part of that definition he utilized a concept developed in 1972 by Dr. John Travis. That concept was that health, wellness, and fitness can all be put on a “Sickness-Healthy-Fitness Continuum.”
Glassman’s version looks something like this:
This idea is that all of our measurable health and fitness markers can be placed on the continuum to help show you where you fall in relation to being sick, well, or fit. Markers can include your blood pressure, good & bad cholesterol levels, bone density, muscle mass, flexibility, VO2 max, resting heart rate, etc.
How is works is that you would identify what your markers are, figure out what is considered below, at, or above accepted ranges for those marker, and note where you fall for each of them based on the accepted ranges.
Let’s use Zach Morris as an example of how this works. (Kelly Kapowski was in an earlier blog post):
Zach is a 31 years old guy, has 17% body fat, an HDL/LDL ratio of 3:1, can squat 0.75x his body weight, a V02 Max of 42.5, a resting heart rate of 65, and a blood pressure of 110 / 75.
Zach’s continuum would look like this:
As you can see, his squat shows his strength is lower than it should be for health, so he needs to work on his strength to get that marker over to the right.
Also, he can keep adding as many measurable markers as he wants. His goal is to get as many of those markers to the right side of wellness as possible to be generally fit. We would call this being a generalist.
Before we go any further, lets define “sick.” Sick does not necessarily mean the flu or a cold. It represents sub-optimal motor function, disease, disability, and poor quality of life. Many who fall on the sick side deal with various surgeries to fix joint, muscle, and bone issue or have to take expensive medications to manage pain or blood pressure or cholesterol or diabetes or any number of other chronic diseases. Sick is all the health issues you may have to deal with now or in the future that are within your control to avoid.
Now a great start is to find our way towards a the comfort zone center…”healthy.” Often what you hear doctors and governmental agencies use to define healthy is in this range. This can be perfectly fine and you will have less complications than if you were on the sick side. However, it is a slippery slope down toward sickness when in the “healthy” center.
Why be Fit?
The continuum is drawn in the way it was to illustrate the most important concept… the closer you are to the fit side of the continuum the farther you are from being sick. What this means is that the more on the side of fitness you are, the greater forgiveness you have if you slide back towards the sick side before actually becoming sick.
For example, if I can squat 2.5x my body weight, I am very far on the right in terms of strength. I can get 30% weaker and still have muscle mass and general strength beyond mere “health.” On the same boat, I can have a resting heart rate of 45 when I am 30 but over the years this drops naturally. It can fall to 60, 65, 70 and I am still on the right side of healthy. However, lets say my cholesterol HDL/LDL ratio is right at a 3.5:1. What is considered minimum for health. One misstep and I will slide into the sickness category and be a higher risk for all the complications that come from bad cholesterol.
It is worth nothing that for some markers, the far ends of the fitness side of the Continuum will be most obtainable with you are younger…20’s and early 30’s. Eventually your biological clock will start pulling your more to the left. However, if you develop the habits to get your as far on the side of fitness as you can based on your age (it is never too late to start), than those habits will keep you on the fitness side as long as possible. This will then provide you with a cushion (aka more time) in the happy and wellness category before you hit the sickness side. We are not taking days or weeks, that difference can mean years of healthy and happy.
Why Not Just Get Super Fit in 1 or 2 Markers?
To be generally physically fit or well, we don’t want to be a specialist (one who is on the extremely fit side of a select few markers) we want to be a generalist (one who is on the fit side of a majority of markers). Our goal is to try to be above average in as many markers as possible. Not just be really really ridiculously really good (..zoolander…) at one or two things.
As stated above, a specialist would be really fit in one area but limited in another. Take a marathoner for example. Incredibly fit in areas of cardiovascular health, V02, lean body mass, etc. However, their muscle mass will be extremely low, which can hinder them when they grow older and muscle is more fleeting (we want to be able to get up and down by our selves for as long as possible). Also, joint health and flexibility for a runner specialist will likely be on the left side of the continuum. Nutrient intake can be off as well if said runner relies too heavily on carbs for energy instead of balanced macros (see What is General Nutrition for more information), which is also common for runner specialists.
If your goal is to be a specialist, then your goal is for performance not general health. That is perfectly OK, so long as you know what the potential consequences are from that. Some markers will suffer as you try to perfect other markers.
Throughout your life you will slide back and forth a lot or a little. Your goal is to stay as fit as you can/want for as many markers as possible for as long as possible. This delays your “sickness” and prolongs your activity and wellness….and ultimately your enjoyment of life.
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