Sometimes we lose track of what a healthier choice really means, especially in a fitness industry dominated by the idea that low calorie is healthier or that lifting heavy weight is healthy. We forget that everything needs context. How healthy something is, is completely relative to each individual situation. Let's break this down into categories and I will try as best as I can to look at this with my Personal Trainer cap on in an unbiased way.
It's far too simplistic to simply say that being in a calorie deficit is healthy, in-fact it is simply wrong. However, we do live in a society where a large proportion of the population is overweight and a calorie deficit may be the healthier option for the sake of losing weight. On the other hand you wouldn't apply this logic to someone who suffers from anorexia. As well as calories, we need to think about the nutritional content of foods. Lower calorie (nutrient lacking) foods do not always trump higher calorie (nutrient dense) foods. For example, the idea that a mars bar (230 calories) is a better option than a poached egg on sourdough with some grilled mushrooms, rocket and spinach (approx 300 calories) is crazy. We need to stop thinking so unilaterally about just calories and think about the nutrient requirements of our bodies, and then tailoring our portion sizes to the correct calorie content whether that is a surplus or deficit.
Now as far as the studies I have read go, it's pretty conclusive that some form of resistance training, whether it's swimming, machines in the gym, weightlifting or a game of tug of war... is good for you. From the prevention of bone density related issues, postural corrective issues or just plain strength development, we should all be doing some form of resistance training. The question is, how much is healthy? Is it healthy to continuously progressively overload on all your lifts? And I suppose this is best answered by asking yourself 'what does my life require me to be able to lift?' If you were an American football player, doing the bare minimum in the weights room will result in an injury, so it's reasonable to presume that it would be a healthier choice to lift more weights in order to prevent injuries. However if you go to the gym 2 times a week and deadlift as heavy as possible to then go and sit in an office for 8 hours a day, that might not be the healthiest of options. So to conclude, lifting some weights with correct form in order to develop a strong muscular, neuromuscular and musculoskeletal structure is definitely healthy. Beyond that, it becomes much more individual. But to be honest, most of us are probably below par in terms of the amount of resistance training we do so adding a little bit more in probably isn't the worst idea. The safest approach is to always consult a personal trainer on developing a suitable program first.
This is very much along the same lines as the weight training. We all need to maintain a healthy heart and lungs. Aerobic exercise is the best way to do that. Whether it's running, swimming, using a cross-trainer or going for a bike ride we could all do with more voluminous lungs and a lower resting heart rate (this is obviously not aimed at the super fit). Overdoing this and not giving ourselves adequate recovery time for our bodies is something to be cautious of here but on the whole this is pretty clear cut.... Aerobic exercise is good; putting ourselves in a position where we are out of breath is a healthy activity to do.
Mental health is something that has been in the spotlight recently and for good reason. There are more mental heath issues relating to body confidence within the fitness industry than outside of it. So I think it's important to remember, not every choice needs to be for your physical health, making choices to benefit only your mental health are just as important (if not more so) than making choices to benefit your physical health. It is important to remember that what we do for our physical health will affect our hormone balance and our mental health. There is nothing wrong with having a chocolate bar because chocolate makes you happy. But chemically within your brain, moderate exercise will give you that same result. Like most things, the key is balance and finding that point where we become healthy and happy. Not an easy feat.
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