In Health Knowledge is NOT Power

You want to improve your health. You just need to KNOW what to do, right?

Every time I do a presentation on fitness, health, or nutrition I ask the audience the same question: “How many times today did a physician tell a patient some version of ‘eat healthier, stop smoking, and move more?” The number is probably in the tens of thousands.

Now, imagine a late-night “man on the street” segment. The host asks passers-by “true or false: you should eat healthy foods, plenty of veggies, minimal sweets, not smoke, and workout several hours a week.” What percentage of “true’s” would we get? My guess is somewhere over 90%.

Imagine a study where people of all walks of life, income levels, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages are all shown images of food found in most grocery stores. The foods range from kale to Twinkies. Each time an image pops up, the participant must select “One should probably eat more of foods like this than they currently do” or “one should probably eat less of this than they currently do.” My guess is that participants of all different demographics would tend to select the buttons congruent with a scientifically-supported “healthy” diet.

Take those same participants and show them different types of scientifically-supported exercise – aerobic activities, resistance training, HIIT classes, and stretching. Randomly show them other “less healthy” activities like excessive sitting, binge drinking, or sleeping in. My guess is we’d have similar results. An overwhelming number of people will be able to recognize the activities that promote health and those that detract.

I recently took a moment to pause at the food stand of my favorite retailer.

I noticed that the calorie content for each of the meals and snacks was posted next to the menu item. On the surface, I thought “hey, what a great idea!” –Please don’t get this twisted – I am a strong supporter of treats, snacks, and “cheat” meals. If you want a hot dog – go sick. Have the best, most loaded hot dog imaginable. But, back to the menu- A well informed citizenry will make great decisions, right?


I’m not advocating that we abandon the acquisition of knowledge whatsoever. Knowing how the body works protects us from charlatans and snake oil salespeople. In fact, I advocate that you increase your understanding of science and physiology. What I’m talking about here is where the rubber meets the road.

When someone talks about a car’s horsepower, there are two numbers we look at. There is horsepower and then there is Wheel horsepower. Wheel horsepower is always a lower number because power is lost as it transfers from the drive shaft, through some gears and finally where the tire meets the road. Horsepower only matters at the wheel. Sure it is cool to have a 1,000 horsepower car, but all those ponies only matter if you can haul ass, right?

Many times people hide behind knowledge. They’re looking for just the right programming. Maybe they need someone to tell them the exact ratio of protein, fat, and carbs to eat. They spend more time researching the perfect meditation app or mindfulness strategy than they do sitting still. They freak out over toxins and “unclean” foods while hammering vodka sodas all weekend.

You have all the knowledge you need to drastically change the course of your health and your life. You probably have coaches all around you repeatedly telling you the things you need to do, but you’re not quite ready to hear the truth. Focus more on where the rubber meets the road – your horsepower at the wheels – than you do your car’s theoretical horsepower. This is done through habit, consistency, and practice. This comes from doing what you know you should do whether you feel like it or not. Building your horsepower at the wheels isn’t sexy. It takes time. It takes discipline. It is uncomfortable. Find a friend or coach, buckle up, and let’s use some of that mental horsepower to lay down some rubber.