As it is the case with many terms, health and fitness are so casually and globally defined that many people are not clear on their precise definitions. As a result, the two terms are often combined into one and their meanings are interchanged.
Optimal health is an ideal state one can strive for but will not necessarily be able to obtain. It is more conditional and relative than the mere absence of disease or a subjective state of just "feeling good'. Optimal health is the perfect balance and function of all the systems of the body working in harmony, including the nervous, skeletal, muscular, hormonal, intestinal, and all other systems.
Fitness, which is more definitive, relates to a person's athleticism. It implies the ability to perform work effectively. A runner completing a marathon in less than 3 hrs is more fit than the one who finishes in 3.5 hrs. The walker who exercises five days per week is more fit than the sedentary individual.
The most common misconception about health and fitness is that the two always exist simultaneously. Many believe that athletes posses more health because of their fitness training. Unfortunately this is not always, the case. Proper sports training can and should provide greater health and fitness benefits, but many people do not reap these benefits because of some disharmony in the process, such as pre-existing physical imbalances, over-training, or failure to meet nutritional demands.
Millions of people who begin to exercise in hopes of being healthier find out they become fit, but their health has suffered as a consequence. Injury, ill health, and other signs and symptoms that result from exercise imbalance are indications that overall health has suffered. Moreover, during this health-reducing process, fitness can even improve. These individuals are fit but unhealthy. Ultimately, an unhealthy athlete will lose fitness, although this may take a long time. Often a young athlete who sacrifices health for fitness may not show signs or symptoms for years. Consider professional soccer for example. For many people with average fitness potential who take up tennis, running, or cycling, the same process can occur.
Among fitness centres, coaches, and other professionals focused on improving fitness, health is often neglected. A primary concern for the health fitness professional is the balance of health and fitness. Looking at the whole person and improving areas that are not functioning optimally accomplish this. Not only will doing so lead to enhanced performance, but this improvement will continue for a longer time period than one might expect.
An important long-term goal in training, in addition to improving performance, is to increase the quality of a person's life ? not just for the moment but also throughout the person's entire life span. Correcting and preventing an imbalance between health and fitness will accomplish this.