“Is Camille-Leblanc Bazinet even fit” and how we define health

I have to remind myself constantly of what health really is. There is a lot of pressure in any society to adopt certain values; each different culture has a specific way to define health. Rosy cheeks. Washboard abs. Thick, shiny hair. Some of these things that we subconsciously associate with health are actually good indicators, but there are a lot more (and more important) signs and symptoms of health that we can’t see.

And sometimes the signs we’re looking for are not indicators of health. A coworker recently commented on this year’s fittest woman on earth, Crossfit Games champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, saying he recently had a debate with his father about whether she even “looked fit.” He showed me a picture of her bared stomach and said, “are those abs, or is it fat?” My response: both, because a fit woman should have both core strength and at least 16% body fat (I’m not sure whether Camille would even have that much)! I may also have pinched my own stomach and said, “I’m saving this little pooch to feed my future babies!”

Photo from TheRxReview.com

Photo from therxreview.com

My coworker is of the mindset that the cut abs of a world-class bikini model are a requirement of fitness, and had no idea that a body fat percentage low enough to see that effect on most people is not actually healthy. Check out this table that shows classifications of body fat percentages.

Essential body fat is approximately 3% of body mass for men and 12% of body mass for women. Women are believed to have more essential body fat than men because of childbearing and hormonal functions. (Sport Nutrition, Second Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD, and Michael Gleeson, PhD.)

I would say that normal hormonal function is a facet of health! But how should we define health then?  How about this, for starters:

health: the condition of being well or free from disease  (Merriam-Webster.com)

There are a lot of versions out there, but here are a few basics to keep in mind:

  • Good body composition; when most people say, “I need to lose weight,” what they really mean is, “I need to improve my imbalanced percentages of fat and muscle.”  Educate yourself on what healthy percentages are for you – it may not look like the fitness model you had in mind.
  • Cardio-pulmonary capacity or work capacity – your ability to run far and lift big. An indicator of health that your doctor and trainer both care about is blood pressure; you might not be able to see it, but my blood pressure is stunning!

When we talk about fitness, or ideal health, we’re talking about what and how much you can do with your body. A lot of people are shifting their fitness goals right now from “how I want to look” to “what I want to do,” which leads us to the next point…

  • Emotional and spiritual health; I’m talking healthy patterns (like eating well and setting attainable goals), happiness, feelings of general satisfaction, etc..

How are you defining health right now, and what does healthy look like to you?