Or more specifically, is it possible to be be fit but not healthy? This question relates back to “Why do I run?” When I started ChiRunning many years ago my running goal was efficiency while getting beyond the 2+ years of frustration due to nagging injuries. But my goal, the real goal, was health.
Fitness can certainly help you be healthy. But I am learning more and more that you can be fit and not be healthy. You can run a very fast 5K and not really be healthy. This is one of the reasons I don’t focus on short races or speed; they are not in the critical path of my health goals. Someday I will likely come back to them, but I have a feeling my performance will be mainly the result of my health more than the training.
But you can also run a 50 mile ultra marathon and not be healthy. I have sensed this myself; very efficient running, check. But not very efficient keeping my physiology balanced for fuel and electrolytes. And whenever there is an imbalance a lot of stress is created.
- High fitness stress, ie. “fight or flight” response
- Nutritional stress
What is probably even harder on the body is the stop (brake) and go (gas) that can also occur when you combine these two stresses (See blog post Living On The Brake). This is the “run to eat” approach to health, umm I mean fitness. Meaning run with high stress and then eat “hard” for high stress. On both the run and post run, the body is dealing with inefficient fueling for the task at hand. On the run, the task is performance at some level. After the run, the task is recovery. The type of fuel or non-fuel ingested drastically affects both.
I am reading The Big Book of Endurance Training by Phil Maffetone. I can relate to many of his concepts through my own challenges, and in some cases had a “duh” or “aha” moment when I realized this was the information I needed to get to my next level. I have already noticed a big change in how my “health” program feels after making just a few adjustments.
A few key concepts I am working on:
- Low glycemic nutrition to stabilize blood sugar.
- Low heart rate training paces to increase my aerobic base, teach my body to burn fat and to limit the high stress that occurs during a “fight or flight” response. As the aerobic base is developed, the training pace increases. In doing this I have also noticed that my technique focus has been enhanced by slowing it down and thinking clearer.
- A fitness program = work + rest. Days off, balance across long run/short run/gym workouts.
- A health program includes low stress nutrition + low stress fitness + rest (sleep).
- “Less is more”, pg 155. First introduction to this same point many years ago was page 4 of the ChiRunning book.
The concepts may work a bit in isolation, but they are much more powerful together as in a holistic fuel-move-balance-rest approach. I have some long running events coming up this fall as further tests on my critical path to health. As above, my performance in these type of events has been mainly a function of physiology; meaning access to fuel sources, nutrition, “fight or flight”, etc. Based on just a few weeks of training considering the above key concepts, I can see where it may be very possible to have some very different experiences this fall. And these are experiences that can confirm the target, increasing health.
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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor. For more information on David, please see his About Me, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.
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