In this blog you will discover
- What characteristics or data make somebody healthy
- What has to happen in order to become fit
You cannot turn on a morning show and miss a segment about the newest diet trend or wearable device that measures your steps. What strikes me is how sure the diet inventors are that they are right about the way to get healthy.
But what does being healthy actually look like?
I mean specifically. If we took a female, age 35, (we will call her Mary) that weighed 140 pounds and was 5' 5" tall (the average height for women in the U.S.), what characteristics or data points would Mary have to make her qualify as healthy?
Further, what would Mary have to do to become fit?
It starts with the Sickness - Wellness - Fitness Continuum
If you haven't heard Greg Glassman speak about this measurement of health, I highly recommend watching two videos called "CrossFit's New Three-Dimensional Definition of Fitness and Health Part 1 & 2". You can find them here and here. The concept is simple though. If you have anything in your lifestyle from fitness to nutrition that is moving metrics from right to left along this curve, you are doing something profoundly wrong.
Further, being "healthy" is a buffer between fitness and sickness. Meaning, aside from acute injury or illness, you cannot just go from fitness to sickness without passing through healthy. In reality, we all have points along this curve that make us a little bit of everything. However, Mary does not. She is exactly at the top of the curve. She is perfectly healthy. Let's move in closer and see what that might actually look like.
Blood Test Results for Mary
To begin our assessment, we send Mary off to the lab to have her blood work done with WellnessFx. A few days later we get back these results. Every one of them is considered "Low Risk" which we will relabel as healthy.
- Blood Pressure - 110/70
- Resting Pulse - 45
- Total Cholesterol - 180
- Triglycerides - 120
- Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio - 3
- Apo B (Protein in LDL) - 70
- hs-CRP (Inflammation marker) - .7
- Insulin - 1.5
- Glucose - 75
- TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone) - 1.75
The results go on to say she is low risk with her liver, kidney, blood, and bone health and has perfectly balanced electrolytes. As far as blood tests go, Mary has passed with flying colors. However, she could actually improve in all areas. This would be a move on the continuum towards "Fitness" and we will discuss it more later.
What is on Mary's plate 3 times a day?
Since there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all nutrition lifestyle, we have to assume a few things about Mary. First, she has done a MRT test which looks for food sensitivities and she is avoiding the foods that her body reacts against. You can read all about why this test is important and how to work with a dietitian in our blog here, but for now just know that we don't want Mary's immune system fighting certain foods and chemicals. Another assumption is that Mary is capable of eating well rounded meals throughout the day. Her breakfast, lunch, and dinner typically look like this.
If this plate is a representation of Mary's diet, we also know that she eats real food, avoids processed foods and fast foods, and follows a Zone protocol where her meals are balanced. Further, Mary follows the World Health Organization's recommendation of limiting her added sugar intake to 5% of her total calories each day. These eating habits are reflected in her blood work results above. As a general rule, Mary does not count calories and focuses more on the quality of what she eats over the quantity.
Does she even lift, bro?
Part of any healthy lifestyle includes physical activity. While there are numerous ways to achieve healthy goals, Mary uses CrossFit as her training method of choice. For this scenario, we will assume she has a safe understanding of general CrossFit movements and performs all workouts within her current abilities. In other words, Mary is not trying to do kipping handstand push-ups before she can do a strict one and subsequently dropping on her head and spine after each rep.
OK, so we know what Mary uses to get healthy in the gym, but now we need to know some results of her efforts. I am going to use our progression matrix that we developed a few years ago as box owners and adapted with permission from CrossFit Valley View. It is not perfect, but it gives us an idea of what Mary should be capable of as a healthy CrossFitter.
In my 5 years of coaching and owning a CrossFit gym, I taught thousands of classes as the head instructor. What I found was achieving Yellow usually took a few months simply due to the learning curve of CrossFit movements. Then Green and Blue could be achieved with hard work in another 6-9 months. If Mary is healthy, but not overly fit, we will assume 100% of her results fall within Purple. In other words, she is not in the Green column for weightlifting, but the Brown column for Metabolic Conditioning. Purple reflects tough but achievable results with proper training and nutrition. Since the picture above is tough to read, here are some of Mary's highlights:
- Back Squat - 162.5 lbs
- Front Squat - 130 lbs
- Overhead Squat - 97.5 lbs
- Clean and Jerk - 130 lbs
- Snatch -97.5 lbs
- Thruster - 130 lbs
- Air Squats - 120 unbroken
- Push Ups - 25 unbroken and with elbows in
- Strict HSPU - 1 with good control
- Bar and Ring Muscle Up - 1 each
- Plank - 2 minutes
- 200m - :47 seconds
- 400m - 1:40
- 1 mile - 7:40
- 3k - 17:00
- 500m Row - 2:00
- Double Unders - 50 unbroken
- Karen - 10:00 with a 14lb Wall Ball to a 10' line
- Helen - 11:00 with 35# American Kettle Bell Swing and kipping pull ups
What we can tell from these results is that Mary is equally strong as she is fast and competent in gymnastics movements. Further, Mary can put all of this together and complete benchmark workouts with above average results. If Mary wants to become stronger, she knows she also has to become faster and more efficient in order to maintain a healthy balance of fitness goals. This is the idea behind the Progression Matrix and at the heart of real CrossFit training. This does not mean Mary will forgo specializing from time to time in order to work on her weaknesses in one area or another. Just that she is aware that being healthy requires overall balance in each of the 10 General Physical Skills.
Sleep, Stress, and Lifestyle Choices
Finally, a healthy lifestyle is one of work-life balance. Mary's job allows her to stand more than she sits each day, it is stressful but in a positive way, and she always gets at least 7 hours of sleep each night. In the mornings, Mary wakes up feeling rested and hungry for her first meal. Mary may indulge in a beer or glass of wine, but neither one is a necessity. Her home is a positive environment for her and her family. I'm also willing to be her home is generally clean and free of clutter and that she is a rising star at work.
What does Mary have to do to become fit?
If we hold to the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum, Mary simply needs to keep doing what she is doing. For her blood work to improve, Mary will need to make small adjustments to her nutrition lifestyle and use trial and error to figure out what moves the needle to the right. Highly fit individuals do not follow diets. They do the hard work over time to amass mountains of data about themselves and then adjust their nutrients to better fit their needs. Mary cannot possibly achieve this overnight any more than she can make her deadlift go up by 50 pounds in a month.
Speaking of her deadlift, Mary needs to continue her training regimen for as long as it is producing results and moving her numbers into the Red column. She may achieve a new PR in her back squat at 195 lbs well before she drops her mile time to 7 minutes flat, but she needs to continue to focus on those areas that are still back in Purple. If at some point, Mary is incapable of progressing, she should consider a different CrossFit training regimen or perhaps supplement with additional sports or activities. Continuing to do CrossFit 3 times a week and focusing on her overall mobility should keep her injury free while producing personal records every few months.
So is Mary Healthy?
We now know a lot about Mary. She eats well, has above average blood work, she holds her own in the gym, and gets enough sleep at night. The chances that Mary takes any medication are slim to none. She routinely passes her medical examinations and probably walks into her doctor's office knowing a lot more than she does about her health. And when Mary shows up for that annual physical and steps on the scale, Mary doesn't care what it says but can probably still guess the number within 5 pounds. Mary is indeed healthy. Every day that she works towards fitness she is also moving further away from sickness. She is her own best medication and she knows that letting up in any area outlined above will have negative effects in all the other areas. It is about balance, not about deadlifts or weight or counting calories.
If you truly find somebody like Mary in your life, go befriend them. Find out what drives them and then try to emulate it. If they are anything like the Mary's I have had the pleasure of meeting, they are humble and willing to teach what they have learned. What drives Mary is exactly what the original quote at the top of this blog suggests. She doesn't have it all figured out and never will. It is the journey that makes her smile, not the finish line.