“The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret.”

Henri-Frederic Amiel

Recent discussions resulting from this post got me pondering the relationship of fitness and/or competitive athletic endeavors to one’s overall health.  It occurred to me that overall “health” could be broken down into multiple constituent parts, in much the same way that Greg Glassman reduced fitness to (and thereby defining it by) its constituent parts.  Furthermore, in assessing one’s overall health, fitness would be but one of multiple defining constituents.  The definition of “health” then, might look a little something like this:

  1. An overall fitness assessment (from Greg Glassman’s 10 aspects of fitness).  This might better be summarized by the DeVany/McGuff notion of Physiological Headroom (i.e., the difference between idle and the “most” you can do).  I would assume “most”, here to mean power output per selected activity over a given period of time.  This leads us into the debatable question, though, of what activity would be considered the benchmark for such an assessment.
  2. Body Fat percentage
  3. Circulating insulin level
  4. C Reactive Protein level
  5. Circulating Vitamin D level
  6. Psychiatric “centeredness”
  7. Spiritual well-being
  8. Dental well being
  9. Sensory acumen

I’m sure we can come up with many other attributes here, but you get the point.  Just as overcompensation in too narrow a focus can negatively affect one’s overall fitness level, so too can overcompensation in fitness, as a whole, negatively affect one overall health assessment.  To illustrate this point, think of the competitive athlete – or one who trains like a competitive athlete.  This, of course, is not to say that competitive athletes are by the very nature of their lifestyles, unheathy, but to point out that that the competitive environment forces an athlete to continually redline the risk/trauma tachometer.   This is where we get into the notion, posited by Nassim Taleb (and cited often by Dr. Doug McGuff), of the graveyard survivors (here and here).

As in all other aspects in life, one should strive for balance between overall health and fitness level.  I prefer Art Devany’s idea of a highly compressed, accelerated “end of days”, that is to say, not a long and decrepit, disease-riddled crawl toward death, but a sudden drop-off from high-health to sudden, natural death.  We could all hope to reach the end like the bird in D.H Lawrence’s poem:

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself”

In health,



  1. I think you’re spot on with this, far too often I hear/speak to people comparing themselves either to their favorite athlete or movie star, not realizing that these individuals are particularly focused in a particular direction. I remember reading an interview with Christian Bale after the first Batman movie (when he’d put a huge muscle mass very quickly) and he freely admitted that this was pretty useless muscle, he didn’t have any real strength or stamina, he’d been working to achieve a specific ‘look’ which he needed for his role. (All credit to him for body-sculpting like that for his craft, but my point being it’s not a recipe for livelong health)

    Thanks also for the wonderful D.H. Lawrence quote, I’m putting that one in my evolutionary fitness scrapbook!

    Great blog, really enjoy reading it.

    • Yeah, ol’ DH pretty much nails it with that little bit of succinct poetry. Glad you’re enjoying the blog, Chris.

  2. Interesting.

    So would joint/muscle pain fall under fitness then?

    I wonder if, down the road, a more detailed discussion won’t emerge of how pushing ourselves in specific areas of athleticism affects us in specific areas of health. For example – steady state cardio leading to insulin resistence, hockey leading to poor dental well being (heh), and etc.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, Keith.


    • I think I’d put inflammation, joint and muscle integrity/pain (or, hopefully, lack thereof) under a “health” sub-category. Actually, “categories” is probably not a correct way to think of these things, as everything is really interrelated; the “butterfly affect” at work w/in the body proper.

    • Good point. I think for many of us though, there is a “need” to see how far we can push the well-being-to-athletic-performance curve. That is to say, where does (or at what point does) increased athleticism become a detriment to well-being?

      • Ok, I understand. Do you know if some of the attributes you’ve come up with are more frequently off healthy limits with hard training athletes than with people in general?

        • The first thing that pops into my mind is immune system compromise; the second is general irritability. These are classic (and immediate) signs of overtraining. Joint health is something that deteriorates over time, and so it’s (usually) not attributed to over/improper training until the damage has been done.

  3. Keith,

    I have been on the road and away from computer access. I am on a hotel computer getting my TTP fix and just wanted to say that your discussions on this topic are excellent/facinating.

    I am about to do a news interview in Houston and I’m sure this topic will come up. This was the perfect post to get the wheels turning.


    Doug McGuff

    • Good deal, Doug. I’m sure you’ll post a link to the interview on your site and when you do, I’ll link to it here.

      BTW, I hear from family that it’s hot as hell in Houston these days. Big surprise, huh?


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