I believe that many people in Western culture hold the notion that being fit is the same as being healthy. The fitness and supplement industries certainly want us to believe so. It seems that, through the multitude of advertisements that bombard us, we are constantly being told that slim equals fit equals healthy. We idolize fit almost as much as we idolize skinny. Lose weight, get in shape, and be healthy can appear synonymous, especially when pitted against society’s stigma of being overweight. But even when we realize that being thin and being fit are not the same, it can still be difficult to grasp the concept that being fit and being healthy are not the same.

After college I went to work as a personal trainer. My goal was to help people to be healthy by improving their fitness. And while physical fitness is most definitely a component of physical health, it quickly became apparent to me that my clients were focusing very much on improving their physical fitness while sometimes neglecting other aspects of their physical health. Simply put, physical fitness is only one piece of the physical health “pie.” Other factors that contribute to a person’s physical health include nutrition, adequate sleep, exposure (or lack of) to environmental toxins (i.e. drugs, alcohol, pesticides, radiation, etc), and stress, just to name a few. Moreover, physical health is only one component of total wellness, which can be expanded to include spiritual, mental, and emotional health as well.

So why is it important to acknowledge that fitness and health do not always coincide? As I stated before, I became a personal trainer to help people be healthy, and encouraging and empowering overall health and well-being is still my goal. From my experience in the fitness industry, both working as a trainer and competing as an athlete, I can tell that sometimes health is sacrificed for the sake of fitness, and especially achieving the facade of fitness. In a fat-phobic, appearance-obsessed society, lean, toned, muscular physiques are revered. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in being fit and achieving a perfect body that we forget to establish a balance within other aspects of our health.

I urge you to evaluate your fitness as it relates to your overall health, not just as a single, isolated component. Ask yourself, do I enjoy and look forward to my exercise? Does it energize me? Do I exercise to feel strong and capable (as opposed to burn calories)? Do I actually feel stronger and more capable because of my exercise (or conversely, is it causing me pain or contributing to ongoing injuries)? How does my exercise add value to other areas of my life?

Being fit and being healthy are not necessarily one in the same. Certainly being fit is part of being healthy, but it is possible to be fit and not in optimal health as well. By keeping the focus on health and wellness, rather than a “perfect” body (there is no such thing!), it is easier to ensure that our fitness and health align.