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Are Athletics Healthy for You?

If you have spent any time in athletics at a high level, you have probably heard some variation of the inside joke, “the healthiest your body will feel is the day you start and the day you stop.” Jokes like these are often funny because they contain a certain amount of truth in them. So is it really true? Are athletics healthy for you? Can you be an athlete performing at the highest level and also achieve optimal health, or are these two mutually exclusive?

Let’s give this some context. To be clear, when I’m saying high performance, I’m talking about someone who is attempting to realize their full human potential, regardless of what that potential may be. Being ranked fifth or 5000th on is irrelevant, so long as both individuals are pushing themselves to perform at their best. Football is just as unhealthy to an eight-year veteran in the NFL as it is to a junior college athlete – again, assuming they are performing at their personal best.

The reality is that what high-level athletes do is not healthy for their bodies. If you are an athlete that is truly chasing your performance potential, you will have to give up your health to do so. The body is too complicated to be healthy simply because someone has a six-pack or can run fast. A drag car looks healthy too until it blows its engine and catches on fire. When you look at health, you must be concerned about the balance between multiple parameters. Simply focusing on the output of a few parameters like strength, speed, or quickness or someone’s outward physical appearance is not enough to achieve health. For that reason, high performance and health are mutually exclusive.

Think about it. Is it healthy to hold the world record squat? Is it healthy to be completely shriveled up on the stage with four percent body fat? Did McIlroy just have bad luck with his back? Or is flexing and rotating the spine in a repetitive motion just not great for you? If long distance running is so great for your body, why is anorexia, lack of periods, and osteoporosis so prevalent with female runners? Pick any sport. Those who are truly pushing their limits are either consciously or subconsciously giving up their health to do it.

To read further on the implications that being an athlete has on your body, visit to read the full article by Dr. Detweiler.

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