Exercise can make you less healthy

Dallas Hartwig

This is me in a COLD glacier-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies in 1991. Growing up, my parents never talked about exercise or calories, but they did deeply value health. We spent a lot of time working in our family’s garden and traveling to the mountains to hike, mountain bike, or canoe. We ended up doing a lot of healthy movement, but no planned, structured exercise.

And that is still an important concept for me: health is not dependent on doing tons of hard, structured exercise. In a lot of cases, hard training actually DECREASES health.

Yes, exercise can make you less healthy.

One of the core messages that I’ve spoken about for the last 8 years is that health and fitness are very different things. Related, yes, and sometimes overlapping, but often confused as synonymous.

I’ve worked with hundreds of very fit, lean, muscular patients with gut issues, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and chronic inflammation. Their exercise actually made their health worse. I know many Instafamous nutritionists and self-appointed exercise experts who look “have abs” but who also struggle with thyroid problems, depression, and compulsive behaviours. Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Healthy movement is a key part of overall health, but it doesn’t have to be a daily thrashing that leaves you writhing in a puddle of sweat.

Healthy movement is a key part of overall health, but it doesn’t have to be a daily thrashing that leaves you writhing in a puddle of sweat. In terms of long-term health, strength matters. Functional movement and mobility matter. Being really lean does not necessarily produce better health. Running a fast marathon does not necessarily produce better health.

If you want to be healthy, move more. Pick up something heavy. Carry it. Get outside. Go for a walk in the morning sun. Climb a mountain, climb a tree. Or swim in a frigid mountain lake. It makes life better.

Dallas Hartwig is the co-creator of Whole9Life and the Whole30 program. New York Times bestselling author. Free-range human.