One of the biggest misconceptions in the fitness industry today is that “exercise” is “healthy.”
Stay with me here.
The problem lies in separating terms and assigning definitions. First let’s define health as the “absence of disease and injury.” That’s a good starting point we can all agree on, right? Next we’ll use Dr. Doug McGuff’s — author of “Body By Science” — definition of exercise. McGuff defines exercise as specific movements that stimulate a positive physiological adaptation (i.e. improved strength, muscle growth) without undermining health.
This is where we need to separate the terms “activity” and “exercise.”
Under the definitions I’ve laid out, a lot of things most people consider exercise is actually an “activity.” For example, let’s look at running. Running or jogging undoubtedly has certain positive aspects, but long-term, this activity can have adverse effects on joint health, inflammation and can even lead to cardiac events.
So if our main goal is to be healthy, or absent of disease or injury, would you really consider running exercise?
I’ll use myself as another example. My two favorite sports are golf and fast pitch softball. I play them both regularly in the spring and summer and would consider both of them moderate to intense physical activities, but I would never consider them exercise.
Golf is not good for my health — at all. I walk for four hours straight, often getting sun burnt, dehydrated and stressed out if I’m having a poor game. The twisting and turning of a swing places an incredible amount of pressure on my spine and is horrible for my back, often leaving me laid up unable to walk several times a year.
In softball I play catcher, which is a constant ebb and flow of getting hit with balls, bats and baserunners. Jammed thumbs, bruised collarbones and sore knees are regular occurrences. Does any of this seem healthy to you?
You might be asking now, why on Earth would anyone do these things? Each activity a person chooses has a risk and reward ratio. Each person has to decide if the risk/reward ratio is beneficial for them, and then go forward with that activity knowing full well what they are getting themselves into.
This is true for everything including running, recreational sports and anything else someone might confuse with exercise.
So if none of these things are exercise, what is? Under these definitions, high intensity resistance training — a protocol that employs slow, safe and controlled movements — is the perfect way to increase your fitness without undermining your health. Resistance training is the only way to make meaningful adaptations in muscle size and strength, which can positively affect your ability to participate in the activities you enjoy, and allow you to participate in them more safely. This can be anything from competitive sports, going on leisurely walks or even just carrying in the groceries.
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