Health and Fitness: What is the Difference

 In Blog

We often hear the terms “health” and “fitness” together, as if they are interchangeable. However, one does not mean the other. There is a difference. But a good goal is to be both fit and healthy.


Health is a general term that refers to “your state of well-being, where physiological systems work in harmony”.

Physiological systems include systems such as the skeletal, nervous, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, immune and digestive systems. Your state of well-being also includes mental health.

When everything is functioning well, it is easy to take health for granted. What gets our attention, is when things are not.

With COVID-19, a lot of attention has focused on “stopping the spread” of infection. Generally, healthy immune systems fight infection. A bigger issue than COVID, dare I say, is chronic disease that leads to co-morbidities in those most at risk of dying from COVID.

Chronic disease, or non-communicable disease, is often caused by lifestyle, behaviour, genetic and environmental factors. We know that physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, smoking and excessive use of alcohol can lead to many adverse health effects. Examples include: Heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and weight gain.

As much as we need to take responsibility to avoid transmissible infections, we need to take responsibility with our lifestyle and behaviour choices to avoid chronic disease. That is not something people like to hear. People want to live the way they want to live and take a pill or a vaccine to solve their problems. Healthy living requires effort to be active, eat whole foods, manage stress and get quality sleep. But it is absolutely the best solution. Our bodies are designed to move and be active. It is good for our brain, our heart, our bones and every system in our body.

The Stay At Home order

Lest I get off on a tangent, is it possible that we, here in Ontario, are worse off now, both mentally and physically, for this past year having had sports cancelled, recreation facilities shut down, gyms closed, and orders to stay home? I will come back to this question.


Fitness is the “specific ability to perform aspects of sports, occupations and daily activities.”

When you think about the athletes preparing for the Summer Olympics, each sport has a unique set of fitness requirements. The fitness required to compete in running is different than the fitness required for rowing, which is different from boxing, which is different from swimming. That is what makes every sport so interesting to watch!

It is entirely possible, however, to be fit yet unhealthy. Many elite athletes suffer from health issues. Examples of this include eating disorders, amenorrhea (having too low body fat), depression, anxiety, blood sugar issues, alcohol abuse, and chronic injuries.

Athlete often deal with injuries which can lead to long-term dysfunction. In the short term, a person can complete a marathon while being in pain or limping. They can play a sport while being all taped up. But in the long term, those injuries need to be addressed and movement patterns need to be corrected. It is important to make sure that we are not only are moving more, but also moving well.

Lastly, the fitness industry itself should check what message we are sending. Is it reasonable, or even healthy, to try to maintain 10% body fat? Should we instead focus on being a healthy weight, being strong, having energy, feeling good, being the best version of yourself that you can be?

Health Leading to Fitness

My goal as a personal trainer is to lead people to both health and fitness. I want to help people maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, and improve strength and functional ability. This will lead to a better quality of life, longevity, confidence and mental well-being.

A good place to start is with the Canadian guidelines for physical activity. This has recently been updated as the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines (2020).

Did you know that Canada has guidelines for physical activity? The previous guidelines recommended minimum amounts of physical aerobic activity and strength training on a weekly basis. The new Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recognize that in addition to your daily bout of exercise, what you do for the rest of the day matters as well.

The guideline addresses three important aspects of each 24-hour day:

1. Physical Activity

  • Perform muscle strengthening activities twice a week on non-consecutive days
  • Accumulate 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity.
  • Do several hours of light physical activities, including standing

2. Sleep

  • Get 7 to 9 hours per night of good-quality sleep with consistent bed and wake-up times

3. Minimize Sedentary Behaviour

  • Limit sedentary time to 8 hours per day
  • Sit for no more than 3 hours of recreational screen time per day
  • Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.

The previous guidelines stated that physical activity should be completed in bouts of 10 minutes or more. The current teaching is that any movement is better than no movement. Any progress towards reaching these guidelines will be of benefit.

Movement IS medicine, both physically and mentally! The health benefits associated with following the guidelines include:

  • a lower risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, anxiety, depression, dementia, weight gain, adverse blood lipid profile; and
  • improved bone health, cognition, quality of life and physical function.

Physical Activity Statistics

Statistics Canada, 2020 reported, even before the pandemic, that only 16% of Canadian adults were getting the recommended amount of physical activity. I suspect that it is these same 16% (or fewer), who made an effort to pivot to at-home workouts and stay active during the lockdowns. Of course, there may be some previously-sedentary people who made use of the time off to become more active. It will be interesting to see the 2021 data. But lockdowns or not, how do we encourage the other 84% of the population to be more active?

ParticipACTION released a very good video about the physical activity “pulse” in Canada. You can watch the video here and read the report here.

At Vital Active Living, we want to help lead you to more active living. We want you to move well, move often, eat healthy food, manage stress, and practice good sleep hygiene.

If you would like to work with a personal trainer please fill out this contact form.

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