The simplest, most practical definition of physical fitness is "the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and to meet unforeseen emergencies."(1) You can consider yourself fit if you meet your daily energy needs; can handle unexpected extra demands; and are protecting yourself against potential health problems, such as heart disease. Fitness is important both for health and for athletic performance.
The five health-related components of physical fitness include:
- Aerobic or cardiorespiratory endurance
- Muscular endurance
- Muscular strength
- Body composition (the ratio of fat and lean body tissue)
Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the capacity of the heart, lungs, and blood to transport oxygen to the working muscles efficiently. It is achieved through aerobic exercise, including activities such as brisk walking, running, bicycling or swimming, or any activity that involves working out strenuously without pushing to the point of breathlessness. So it could include housework, such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn.
Muscular strength refers to the force within muscles; it is measured by the absolute maximum weight that you can lift, push, or press in one effort. Strong muscles help keep the skeleton in proper alignment, improve posture, prevent back and leg aches, help in everyday lifting, and enhance athletic performance. Muscle mass increases along with strength, which makes for a healthier body composition and a higher metabolic rate.
Muscular endurance is the ability to perform repeated muscular effort; it is measured by counting how many times you can lift, push, or press a given weight. Important for posture, muscular endurance helps in everyday work as well as in athletics and sports. Flexibility is the range of motion around specific joints—for example, the stretching you do to touch your toes or twist your torso.
Flexibility depends on many factors: your age, gender, and posture; how muscular you are; and how much body fat you have. As children develop, their flexibility increases until adolescence. Then a gradual loss of joint mobility begins and continues throughout adult life. Both muscles and connective tissue, such as tendons and ligaments, shorten and become tighter if not consistently used through their full range of motion.
Body composition refers to the relative amounts of fat and lean tissue (bone, muscle, organs, water) in the body. a high proportion of body fat has serious health implications, including increased incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, gallbladder problems, back and joint problems, and some forms of cancer.
Physical conditioning (or training) refers to the gradual building up of the body to enhance cardiorespiratory, or aerobic, fitness; muscular strength; muscular endurance; flexibility; and a healthy body composition.
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- Functional fitness, which is gaining greater emphasis among professional trainers, refers to the performance of activities of daily living. Exercises that mimic job tasks or everyday movements can improve an individual’s balance, coordination, strength, and endurance.
Athletic, or Performance Related, Fitness
You may jog five miles, work out with weights, and start each day with a stretching routine. This doesn’t qualify you for the soccer team. Most sports, such as softball, tennis, and basketball, require additional skills, including:
Agility: the ability to change direction rapidly.
Balance: or equilibrium, the ability to maintain a certain body position.
Coordination: the ability to integrate the movement of body parts to produce smooth, fluid movements.
Power: the product of force and speed. Reaction time, the time required to respond to a stimulus.
Speed: or velocity, the ability to move rapidly. While many amateur and professional athletes are in superb overall condition, you do not need athletic skills to keep your body operating at maximum capacity throughout life.
Fitness and the Dimensions of Health
The concept of fitness is evolving. Rather than focusing only on miles run or weight lifted, instructors, coaches, and consumers are pursuing a broader vision of total fitness that encompasses every dimension of health:
Physical. As described later in this chapter, becoming fit reduces your risk of major diseases, increases energy and stamina, and may prolong your life.
Emotional. Fitness lowers tension and anxiety, lifts depression, relieves stress, improves mood, and promotes a positive self-image.
Social. Physical activities provide opportunities to meet new people and to work out with friends or family.
Intellectual. Fit individuals report greater alertness, better concentration, more creativity, and improved personal health habits.
Occupational. Fit employees miss fewer days of work, are more productive, and incur fewer medical costs.
Spiritual. Fitness fosters appreciation for the relationship between body and mind and may lead to greater realization of your potential.
Environmental. Fit individuals often become more aware of their need for healthy air and food and develop a deeper appreciation of the physical world.
The Effects of Physical Activity on Health and Disease
Regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:
- Reduces risk of dying prematurely.
- Reduces risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease.
- Prevents or delays development of high blood pressure, and helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.
- Reduces risk of developing colon cancer.
- Reduces risk of developing diabetes.
- Favorably affects fat distribution.
- Maintains normal muscle strength, joint structure and joint function.
- Is essential for normal skeletal development and attainment of optimal peak bone mass during childhood and adolescence.
- Relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety and may reduce risk of developing depression.
- Improves the health-related quality of life by enhancing psychological well-being and improving physical function among persons in poor health.(2)
Now then, isn’t it time to start getting fit? Just get out and walk for 30 minutes per day to start. You’ll be glad you did!