I run the risk of being misunderstood right away with this post, but I’ll do my best to qualify my statement.
Physical fitness is an ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENT for human health, but fitness and health are not the same thing.
Fitness as a Buffer for Bad Habits
Lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, or smoking are often justified as “OK” if the person is physically active. If you already have some of these unhealthy habits, exercise will likely offset some of the damage, so it is a good place to start. However, it does not completely cancel out the damage.
The Damaged Athlete
I have worked with many athletes, from amateurs to professionals. Commonly, they will have damage to their joints from previous injuries, but will have little to no symptoms (for now). He or she will know that the damage exists but will assume (wrongly) that their elite strength or endurance will be protective against further damage. In fact, intense training might speed up this damage if the problem is not properly dealt with, whether you are an elite athlete or simply trying to get in shape.
The Classic Presentation
She is a former competitive dancer or gymnast and is several years removed from her sport. She gets the competitive itch, so she jumps into CrossFit or figure/bodybuilding competition training. Her training is going well until one day she wakes up with low-back and leg pain.
The Exam / Care
We find a severe increase in the curve of the low back, and her X-rays show damage (arthritis) to the last disc in the spine (L5/S1), causing massive strain on the nerve system. She starts chiropractic care to correct posture, stop the degeneration, speed up healing, improve nerve function, and relieve symptoms. After a month of receiving chiropractic adjustments she feels great and drops out of care. She got just enough care to eliminate her symptoms, but not even close to enough care to correct her posture problems or spinal damage.
She continues to train at a high level and every time she does a squat or similar exercise, she is further compressing the disc that is already damaged and compromised by poor posture that her nerve system locked into place 15 years earlier.
When she comes back into the office a year later with another episode of back pain, the damage in her spine is predictably worse! So, for the record squats are not bad, they are awesome actually! But those same squats can quickly switch from awesome to awful if any area of your spine is structurally unsound.
Manipulating Nature to Improve Fitness
I am mostly talking about chemical performance enhancement through steroids, growth hormones, insulin and stimulants. However, this also includes the guy who is taking a handful of ibuprofen so that he can keep pushing through his painful workouts (I know this guy….that was me in my early 20’s).
There are major health consequences to any chemical shortcut in your training. This point is likely obvious to most of us, but it is easy to rationalize when we are trying to get in better shape.
Keep Training and Improve Your Fitness, It is Important!
BUT……. don’t ignore your body in process. Listen to the cues it gives you, and get help when you need it. The professional athletes who have had the longest and most productive careers, all understand something very important. They have professionals taking care of their bodies. A great example is Usain Bolt, he’s getting adjusted by his chiropractor on a regular basis and before every race.
They do not do it on their own, so why should you!