Healthy Enough

by Mike Coughlin

How many times have we heard phrases such as, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”? Health is a primary consideration in both longevity and quality of life, and is one of those things which we often don’t miss until it’s gone. But it is also difficult to quantify. How much health is enough?

I ask this question here because we are examining health in the context of endurance performance on EC this month, and as endurance athletes we love to take things to the limit. If a little is good, more is better, so it must be a worthy goal to be the healthiest person on the planet, right?

Don’t laugh. A lot of money is made by selling this concept, as can be seen by the proliferation of companies offering better health through various magic pills and potions to both the athletic community and the general public. After all, no matter how healthy we are, we can always be healthier!

Health also has an interesting relationship with performance (athletic and otherwise). A certain degree of health is required to accomplish anything in life, but high-performance endeavours often paradoxically involve straying from optimal health, at least temporarily. We see this in corporate leaders, medical residents, and yes, high-performance endurance athletes. However, we also see those who go too far and sacrifice both health and performance, leaving themselves with nothing. This goes for both physical and mental/emotional health.

Therefore, I suggest that health is not something to be maximized as an end goal, but it is something to be valued highly as a means to living a quality life. As for “how healthy is healthy enough” in the context of endurance training and racing, I offer the following practical self-checks:

  • Consistency: Can I maintain a consistent training program over days, weeks, months and years? How often do I miss training due to illness and injury?

  • Ability to Lift Effort: When I approach my goal event, do I have the energy to take my training up a notch?

  • Relationships: Am I contributing positively to my personal and professional relationships over weeks and months?

  • Bigger Picture: Can I see the world beyond myself and my goals?

It is also very useful to have a trusted loved one who supports your goals perform these same checks… sometimes the answers can be different!

Remember, while health may not be a sufficient condition for performance in sport and life, it most certainly is a necessary one.


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