Last week, Katy Bowman of Aligned and Well posted a link to this study, titled:

Bone density comparisons in male competitive road cyclists and untrained controls


and asked her 10k plus Facebook fans whether we would expect that male cyclists had higher or lower bone mineral density in their spines than controls.  Most people said lower, and were, in fact, correct.

Here are the results from the study, and the emphasis in bold is mine:

There were no significant differences (P > 0.050) between the cyclists (CYC) and the controls (CON) for age, height, body mass, or testosterone levels. CYC had significantly (P < 0.050) lower percent body fat and higher bone-free lean body mass than the CON. Calcium intake for CYC was significantly higher (P < 0.050) than for the CON group (1557 +/- 132 vs 1098 +/- 69 mg d(-1)). Anterior-posterior spine (L2-L4) and lateral spine (LS) BMD (g cm(-2)) were significantly lower (P < 0.050) for CYC (L2-L4 = 1.165 +/- 0.023 g cm(-2); LS = 0.781 +/- 0.025 g cm(-2)) than for CON (L2-L4 = 1.246 +/- 0.028 g cm(-2); LS = 0.911 +/- 0.027 g cm(-2)). Based on t-scores (SD from the young adult reference population mean), 9% of CYC and 3% of CON were classified as osteoporotic, whereas 25% and 10% of CYC and CON, respectively, were osteopenic.

And, the conclusion:

Our findings indicated that male cyclists had lower spine BMD than controls, which was not associated with group differences in testosterone.

So, I was thinking all this through on my walk on Saturday.  (My walk which morphed into a run to the grocery when I realized I had exactly zero proteins to feed the children for lunch which then morphed into a run home from the store with two packages of hot dogs zipped up in my rain jacket, bouncing around like weird looking boobs.)HotDogs

And here’s what I got to wondering.

When did this become our dominant paradigm?

cardiovascular capacity = fitness = wellness

Granted, one could argue that in some circles, at least, this is the prevailing mindset:

cardiovascular capacity + strength = fitness = wellness

And, in still other circles, maybe the equation looks more like this:

cardiovascular capacity + strength + flexibility = fitness = wellness

But, still, even though some people may pay lip service to the second and third equations, when it comes down to it, we talk in terms of runners and cyclists and people with high cardiovascular capacity as being “fit” and “healthy,” right?

So, how did this happen?

I’m not sure where the origins lay, but they’re probably somewhere sandwiched in with the “fat is bad” and “cholesterol kills” campaigns that made the quest for cardiac health the overarching goal of our healthcare, nutrition and exercise.  If someone can fill in the contours of this for us, be my guest.

As I reflected on this reality, I realized this narrow-minded view of “wellness” is one of the reasons that I find the subject of alignment to be so fascinating.  It opens up and broadens the conversation of what it means to be well.

Because really, can we call ourselves well if our spines are deteriorating?  What is the point of being “fit” if we women don’t have periods?  Or struggle to get pregnant?  I  mean, click on that last link, please.  The title of the article is “Female Athletes Are Too Fit To Get Pregnant” and one of the lines reads:

As women are increasingly involved in competitive sports or rigorous recreational activities, being too fit can hurt pregnancy chances, according to fertility specialists.

I mean, just ponder that.  Are these women truly “fit” – a word with a positive connotation – when one of the basic biological imperatives of the human race is not functioning because of their level of activity?

The article goes on to say:

It noted that recreational jogging — only 12 to 18 miles a week — can result in poor follicular development, decreased estrogen and progesterone secretion and absent ovulation.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t run, or cycle, or do things to enjoy their bodies.  What I am saying is that what we need is a profound, profound paradigm shift away from athletic-based performance measures as indicators of health and wellness and towards the things that truly allow human beings to live fulfilling, rich, long lives.

I’m not able to draw up a comprehensive list of what those things are right now.  That’s well beyond my pay grade.  But I do know that the reductionist thinking that has pervaded the health and fitness industries for the past few decades is doing humanity a grave disservice.  Wellness is more than a person’s VO2 max, and a cyclist with a crumbling spine may well be able to pedal towards eternity, but eventually that lack of weight-bearing work will catch up to him.

I would go so far as to say that this equation:

fitness = wellness

is a fundamentally flawed assumption.

I may not be able to define what the necessary X and Y are to achieve wellness, and it may well differ from person to person.  But I do know that when we hold out as healthful activities that cause more rapid deterioration of the structures designed to hold us upright, or impair our ability to procreate, our math is wrong somehow.

(You can find this and other great blog pieces at Nourishing Joy’s Thank Goodness It’s Monday Blog Carnival here.)

One Response to “X + Y = Wellness?”

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