What does it mean to be fit?
For many of us, being fit means maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise. However, the “healthy weight = fit” idea omits and misrepresents several important components of what being truly fit means. In biological terms, “being fit” means “being able to provide for one’s own life and wellbeing; the fittest are those who can do so the best.” Now that’s a little closer to what we should be working toward. Not just being fit to the point of sufficiency, but being the fittest.
So, the question is: What can you do to be the fittest you can be, or to obtain the best quality of life possible?
To answer that question, we’ll examine the five components of physical fitness. That’s right, there are five.
Not just “fitting into my favorite jeans,” “being able to run a marathon,” or “bench pressing twice my body weight.” Our definitions are from the US Department of Health and Human Services. Body Composition: This refers to the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital parts of the body. Body composition can provide a better evaluation of overall health than weight or BMI alone, so it is important to maintain a level of body fat that is neither too low (below 3-5% for men and 8-12% for women), nor too high (above 20-25% for men and 29-35% for women). A variety of body fat measurement tools exist including calipers and bio-electrical impedance devices, and although some are more accurate and expensive than others, all can help you monitor changes.
Tip: Have a body fat analysis performed to know your starting point, and begin implementing small, healthy diet and exercise changes to improve body composition.
Cardiorespiratory Endurance: Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel during physical activity. This means being able to sustain an elevated heart rate. Activities like walking, swimming, and bicycling will all lead to improvement, and the good news is that the activity you choose does not necessarily have to be strenuous (at least initially).
Tip: choose an activity you enjoy and start slowly, increasing the intensity and duration over time.
Flexibility: Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint. Maintaining good flexibility helps protect the muscles and joints from injury in all kinds of activity. A basic stretching program, such as 10-15 minutes of light stretching for the upper body, lower body, and core after a workout, may be all you need to improve this oft-neglected fitness component. Yoga and Pilates classes can also add more structure to your flexibility program.
Tip: the key to improving flexibility is to make time for it! Add 10 minutes to the end of your workout to stretch or take 10-minute walking/stretching breaks at work.
Muscular Endurance: Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to continue to perform without fatigue. You can improve muscular endurance by doing sustained activities such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. When it comes to weight training, completing longer sets (12-25 repetitions) would be considered working in the endurance range.
Tip: look for opportunities to activate your muscles outside the club. For example, walk to the grocery store and flex those biceps by carrying groceries.
Muscular Strength: Muscular strength is the ability of the muscles to exert force during an activity.
Sorry to those of you who want to stick to the treadmill, but this means using your muscles against resistance, whether that comes in the form of a dumbbell, resistance band, or your own body weight against gravity.
Tip: take the stairs instead of the elevator, or do some pushups during TV commercial breaks. To be truly, “totally fit” we need to focus on all five components of physical fitness.
Not only will we be healthier overall, but we will also enjoy the benefits of reduced risk of injury and disease prevention (osteoporosis, diabetes, etc.). The added bonus? Improving any single area of fitness will help the others improve as well.
So what are you waiting for?!
What areas of physical fitness are you focusing on right now?