The HealTHis series of blogs was originally written in 2018 for the gym I was running at the time. It breaks health into categories, and explores how we might manipulate each for the purposes of improving ourselves, our health and our outlook. I'll now re-release these articles over the next few weeks, so that they can be given new life and, hopefully, give a new audience a fresh perspective. The first article is below.
Greg Glassman defined fitness as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains”. This definition, whilst incredibly accurate and descriptive, allows people to miss the nuance, and drastically over simplify their understanding of the definition. This reductionist approach leads people to tailor the inferred and underlying principles on which the statement is founded, to suit their own likes and dislikes. Since he uses fitness to identify the upper end of a continuum by which to measure health, this seems to be an appropriate definition with which to start.
In order to try and bring some of the silent, but extremely important, points that underpin the larger view of health to the fore, I’ve broken down my view into six headings. We’ll run through each of these in a little more detail to help the mind open to the broader concepts in question.
Regardless of how much stock you place in the social sciences, it would be hard to argue that we don’t feel, and therefore behave, much differently when we feel part of a strong circle of friends and family. Since the dawn of time, sapiens have grouped themselves into bands, not just to cooperate whilst hunting and for protection, but for companionship, mating and interaction. We’re social creatures by nature, and in fact the only species on earth that can cooperate in groups of over 150 members effectively and without constant conflict, meaning that social interaction isn’t just desirable, but essential. Feeling loved, like you belong, and having people to depend upon, and who depend on you, helps regulate our hormones, meaning there is a very tangible effect to be gained through socialising effectively. For these reasons, and a host of others, I therefore consider there to be a social component to our health. As for how to implement change, I’d suggest starting with these 3 things: make time for those close to you already, make an effort to meet new people, and set aside time for new experiences in a social setting, such as sport.
The way our minds work is key. We need to be able to process huge amounts of information, filter it, and then act accordingly. Our ability to process the information (though not to apply it) is quantified as our Intelligence Quotient (IQ). That number is only an indicator though, and doesn’t reflect the level to which we use that potential. Research over recent years strongly indicates that challenging our minds on a regular basis can help delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's, and it would appear that effects are greater when we challenge ourselves mentally and physically at the same time. For those with a slightly shorter term view though, the greater we are able to understand the component parts of the physical training we take part in, the better we’ll be able to perform the requisite movements, leading to an optimised output. For both reasons, I’d argue that health most certainly possesses a cognitive component. For simple additions to your routine, I’d recommend starting with adding in something each day that challenges you mentally, whether that’s to complete a puzzle, learn a new word or phrase, or engage in a discussion which challenges your current understanding.
I could easily expand this title to knowledge and understanding, since the former without the latter is near useless outside of a pub quiz. Whilst this strongly ties in to the cognitive aspect of health, this is much more focused on what you do with your potential, and how it enhances what you do. If, for example, you have all the knowledge in the world when it comes to weaving baskets and use your innate cognitive abilities to learn more about your chosen subject, this won’t likely help you with your health. Whilst you don’t need to possess a degree level knowledge of the human body, or the training methods you use, the deeper your understanding, the more valuable your knowledge is to your health. As the saying instructs, be a student of your sport, only here your sport is health. Adding in some learning each day is simple, but I would advocate the following methods: read about subjects of which you have little to no understanding, vary the topic and subject of your learning, and set aside reading time every day.
We all know that some people are better coordinated than others. Some of this is natural ability, some of it refined motor skills, honed through practice and repetition. The good news is, we can all improve our coordination, and consequently our ability to perform new and more exciting skills. Any movement requires two things; the physical capacity (strength, mobility etc) to perform it, and the coordination to execute it correctly and safely. The ratio in which these are required varies tremendously from one movement to another, tipping heavily in the favour of coordination when it comes to movements often described as complex. Think along the lines of muscle-ups, snatches, split jerks for an idea. Put simply, the more skills we possess, the more ways we have to both develop, and express our fitness. This becomes a component part of the capacity greg Glassman refers to, along with being the direct subject of the broad domains component of his statement. In order to add skills to your arsenal, try following these tips: Don’t avoid the classes you don’t like, incorporate skill and progression work into your warm-ups, and pay attention to your core at all times!
This maybe seems like a little bit of a redundant heading in this article, but actually I think it’s important to reframe the training aspect of our health, in line with the other headings, to contextualise it, but also to offer a sense of scale. The truth is, most regular gym goers have this bit down to a tee. Of course, people tend to favour things they prefer in their training, often creating imbalances and weaknesses, but in the bigger picture, this is trivial at best, and insignificant at worst. When contemplating total health, the training we perform is only one small part, and certainly when we use time taken to train effectively as a measurement, one of the smallest component parts. That said, it is essential for optimising health, and therefore should itself be optimised by using a broad selection of movements and time domains to make us as functionally capable as possible, but as a bare minimum, capable of independent living.Fitness is an integral part of health long overlooked by the ‘health and wellness’ cohort, who seem diametrically opposed to breaking a sweat or increasing their heart rate, but is one of the best ways to physically safeguard our bodies against both injury and decrepitude, both of which, by definition (even the definition of the aforementioned cohort) leave us unhealthy. To keep your fitness on the up, here are three simple methods: vary your training, including what you do away from the gym, play a sport to use your fitness in a fun manner, and keep a record of your training in order to monitor progress and identify gaps.
There is most certainly some crossover here with both the cognitive and fitness paragraphs above, but also some components which can only suitably be included under their own title. In addition to accounting for our brains (including the physical health of it) and our joints, muscles and connective tissue, all previously covered, this looks at our internal function. Whether it be a disease, illness or simply an organ’s inability to function optimally, the internal function and ability of our organs and other aspects of our anatomy, is the most traditional view of ill health. These present often debilitating symptoms, often require medication, and usually inhibit the life of the afflicted. Whilst some conditions are hereditary, many are not, and can be managed, and even avoided, with regular exercise, a healthy diet and enough sleep. The three suggestions I’d give to keep on top of your biological health are: eat as prescribed below, sleep eight or more hours every night, avoid medication that isn’t absolutely necessary.
Regardless of whether or not you think about health in terms of such black and white headings, or more of a holistic manner, the original ‘World class Fitness in 100 Words’ by Glassman, remains an almost all encompassing prescription to achieve health:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”