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What is healthy?

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Posted by Sloane P of Strength in Freedom under Yoga, General on 26 February 2013 at 12:00 AM

What is healthy? Is it how much you lift, run, hours in the gym? Check out this guest post from Strength in Freedom which is tackling that age old question: What is healthy?

Sloane PI’m Sloane, and I normally blog over at Strength in Freedom. I write about my journey to health, happiness, and balance. As a 20-something former Division 1 athlete, and a type-A overachiever finding peace with myself and my body, developing a healthy relationship with exercise and food, and maneuvering my way through an uncertain future has been a difficult but incredibly rewarding adventure. For more about my story, check out my About Me page! 

Today, I’m honored to be guest posting for Tribesports! I’ve found that the community on this site is incredibly positive, and I’m proud to be a part of such an amazing environment. 

Though I’ve benefitted greatly from being a part of the “healthy living” community of blogs and websites, this community can also foster an environment of extreme behavior, distorted versions of fitness and “health,” and can create an atmosphere of comparison and competition. 

Strong is the new skinny?“Thinspo” has been replaced by pictures of perfectly sculpted muscles, ripped bodies with almost no body fat, and the caption that supposedly makes it all okay - “Strong is the new Skinny”. Is this new ideal the pinnacle of health and fitness?

What I want to address in this post is what it truly means to be “healthy”. In our world today, there are a zillion different ideas, visions, and definitions of health. Is it the self-control to eat only a certain amount of calories? The ability to push through pain and fatigue hour after hour, day after day? Is it a certain body type/shape/composition? Is it simply the lack of disease? 

We can use a million different measurements - numbers, abilities, appearance - but do any of these measurements actually give us a picture of true health? 

I would argue no. 

Health is a state of being - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is the ability to nourish yourself with food, rest, movement, challenges, opportunities and relationships. Health is something that no one else can define for you - it is something that you have to take full responsibility for, and is always in flux. 

When I was training a minimum of 6 hours a day for swimming, I thought I was healthy. I could sustain a high level of endurance cardio for hours, I was incredibly strong, super-flexible, and my body was the picture of fitness. In one day I could do 2 practices, a weight-lifting session, and extra cardio or HIIT no problem. I was in contention for World Championship meets, and qualified for Olympic Trials.

Sloane P swimming for Tennessee University

My body could do almost anything I told it to do. I had no serious illnesses, no heart or pulmonary problems, and no ongoing injuries. But was I truly healthy? 

Absolutely not. I was miserable. 

I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. I was depressed, tired, hungry, grumpy, irritable, and pessimistic all the time. I couldn’t sleep, and was caffeinating my way through my days, living from training session to training session. In what way does this portray “health”? 

I know of so many athletes, professional, collegiate, and amateur, that live their lives this way. Life for them revolves completely around their identity as an athlete - be that runner, swimmer, triathlete, or cross-fitter. I realize that a high level of training requires a certain level of sacrifice and dedication. I lived it for years. However, I don’t think that we should confuse that level of training with health. 

Yoga stretchesToday, I rarely do any exercise other than yoga, which I practice a few days a week. I couldn’t swim for 30 minutes, much less try to do two training sessions plus weights. I have no desire to ever lift another weight, get on another treadmill, or swing another kettlebell. I will never do HIIT workouts, and I most certainly will stay away from lunges, burpees, and box jumps. However, I am healthier than I’ve ever been in my whole life. I sleep like a baby, my panic attacks have disappeared, I no longer suffer from chronic digestive issues and severe acid reflux, my mind is clear, and most of all, I’m happy. I meditate at least once a day, I get outside as much as possible, and I now surround myself with people who build me up and who share their light with me.

In no way am I saying that my specific version of health is right for everyone. But what I am saying is that health is something immeasurable by the abilities of our bodies, the number on the scale or the Body Comp machine, the number of calories we eat, the amount of miles we run in a week, or the hours we put in at the gym. 

Maybe its time we stopped letting others’ arbitrary definitions and qualifications dictate our actions, and instead started embracing the unique and varied definitions of health that we create for ourselves. 

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