There are two buzz words used wrongly in the same sentence pretty regularly. The words ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ (I’ve even used them in the same sentence myself!)
This sounds really obvious but anybody looking to improve their health, fitness or sport specific performance needs to fully grasp the difference between health and fitness. This will ensure the training, diet and lifestyle system you use fits in with your goals and you’re not getting sucked into doing things that don’t fit with your goals and wasting your time and effort.
Health, as described in the dictionary, usually is defined as “The absence of disease”
Fitness is “The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular task”
A person can be very fit but also very unhealthy and the flip side is a person can be perfectly healthy but lacks any specific fitness.
The above said, in most cases a fit person will likely benefit from many health benefits so the chances of being healthy are higher.
A marathon runner runs 75 miles a week as part of his or her training. They have numerous niggling injuries. They also have worn their joints down (hips and knees) to the point that this may effect their everyday activities when they’re older. They may also be run down and get a cold or flu fairly regularly. Yet this person is obviously very fit at the specific activity of running, they have decent lower body development and a strong heart and lungs. Somebody able to run a marathon may have diseases too. Lance Armstrong for example got cancer that wasn’t detected for a long time all the while he was cycling competitively- he was fit but very unhealthy.
A guy or girl does barely any exercise other than walking to work three times a week, they’re fit in no particular activity and have no real fitness, yet they have a reasonably healthy diet, average body fat levels and no diseases. Ask them to run a marathon or try any physical endeavor that requires fitness and they’ll fail, they have good health without fitness.
How does this affect your training?
Training should be specific. If you need specific fitness for your sport you should be doing more of the sport and movements that mimic your sport. A marathon runner needs to run 26 miles so training for running this distance requires long steady runs for example as part of their training regime. For health it would probably surprise you how little is required in terms of training, you can likely get all the health benefits that an athlete might gain from as little as 30 minutes total exercise per week. Diet of course need to be dialed towards health to make this work.
In conclusion health and fitness are two completely separate things, some people may only train for health (which is great) but the training you do for health reasons and the training required for fitness are very much different and exercise specificity is key.