Fitness – An Easy Introduction and Guide
Like many others, you would probably have heard or read how fitness or physical activity is good for you and how it is important to be physically fit. Most of what you have heard is true! Engaging in physical activities, including exercise is the best preventive method against chronic pain and cardiovascular diseases. So if you’re already actively involved in exercising, congratulations, keep it up, or even… step it up a notch. And if you have never had an exercise regimen, or you had one but couldn’t keep up with it and gave up, there’s no need to beat yourself up. This article is to help you start or get you back on track as the case may be.
What is physical fitness?
Physical fitness has been defined as a general state of health and wellbeing and the ability to carry out daily activities without undue fatigue. The industrial revolution has however necessitated a modification to this definition as many tasks are now automated and carrying them out is increasingly easier and less physically demanding. Physical fitness as defined by the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports now refers to a measure of the body’s ability to function efficiently and effectively in work and leisure activities, to be healthy, to resist hypokinetic disease and to meet emergency situations.
Why is it important?
Physical fitness is important for the maintenance of general health and wellbeing of everyone. As mentioned earlier, the industrial revolution was accompanied by a significant decline in physical activities. This decline has also been attributed to the deterioration of the general health of the population. Obesity and cardiovascular mortality are on the increase, especially in the United States! (1/3rd of the population is considered obese. Let’s make sure we are not a statistic!) Engaging in physical activities and physical fitness is the key intervention strategy in the prevention of many diseases.
It’s Easy – One Step at a Time
The quality of life of people suffering from chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart diseases, diabetes etc. is improved with regular exercise. Keeping fit physically can help you continue to do the things you love doing as you grow older and may be one of the most powerful ways to ensure a wonderful lifestyle in old age.
Furthermore, exercising serves as an avenue for having fun and socializing when done in groups. Many friends are made at the gymnasium, tennis court, or anywhere else you regularly exercise or engage in physical activities. Indirectly, exercising improves your mood and helps reduce feelings of depression (check out this study here. #CauseScienceSaysSo).
Distinguishing between physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness
These terms are interrelated and are sometimes interchanged. The fact that they are similar terms, however, does not imply they mean the same thing. Physical activities refer to all forms of activities that involve the movement of the body. Regular day to day activities such as gardening, climbing the stairs, raking leaves and walking are all physical activities.
Exercise is, however, a carefully planned and structured form of physical activity and is usually repetitive in nature (Here is a free guide on creating a simple and effective workout regime: Build Your Exercise Plan ). Exercises are planned and coordinated to achieve an ultimate goal which is physical fitness. Regular physical activities can ensure physical fitness but exercises are a sure way to attain and maintain physical fitness. Moreover, well-planned exercise programs ensure all parts of the body are involved and all aspects of physical fitness are incorporated. Physical activities, on the other hand, are often uncoordinated and the part of the body involved will depend on the activity.
COMPONENTS OF PHYSICAL FITNESS
Five components of physical fitness have been identified
This is the ability of your muscle to exert force during an activity. Without muscular strength, your body will be unable to lift weight or meet other demands placed upon it. The stronger your muscles are, the better you are at lifting weights and overcoming resistance.
Building muscular strength is achieved by working your muscles against resistance or gravity. Muscular strength is increased by training with heavy weights or running against gravity such as running up a staircase.
This is the ability of your muscles to contract for extended periods of time without getting fatigued. Endurance allows the muscles to carry out repeated physical activities for long periods. A person with good muscular endurance is able to perform a number of repetitions of strength training tests such as pushups.
Muscular endurance should not be confused with muscular strength as endurance deals with the ability of muscles to sustain repeated contractions for long periods while muscle strength measures the maximum amount of strength your muscle has while lifting weights or working against gravity.
This component deals with the ability of your joints and muscles to move to their full range of motion. It is on of most important components of physical fitness although its importance is often understated. Without flexibility, joints and muscles grow stiff and range of motion is limited. Good flexibility in joints prevents joint related injuries.
During movement, two groups of muscles are at work, the protagonist and antagonist muscles. The protagonist muscles work the movement takes place while the antagonist muscles oppose the movement. This is necessary so that the body can return back to its original position. Antagonist muscles are the major determinants of flexibility.
This is the ability of your body to carry out exercises such as jogging, cycling, swimming or any other exercise that exerts the cardiovascular system. The heart and lungs work together to feed your body and muscles with oxygen required for activities as well as eliminate waste. Cardiovascular endurance tests if the heart and lungs are working in coordination.
Muscles will not get fatigued easily if they are enjoying a constant stream of oxygen and the heart and lungs are jointly responsible for the supply. People with high cardiovascular endurance do not get tired easily during exercises.
Body fat composition
This aspect of physical fitness refers to the ratio of fat to muscle in your body. Excessive body fat increases the workload on the body and the ability of the body to expel heat is reduced. Understanding your body composition is important if you want to know your fitness level as body composition is has a direct effect on overall fitness level. Average body fat composition for women is higher than in men. Body fat composition lower than 17 percent in men and 24 percent in men is the goal most fitness experts set for their clients.
Before you get started on any exercise regimen, it is important to assess your present physical condition. If you have a fitness trainer, he/she should administer a fitness assessment test which may vary depending on the trainer. The standard test usually consists one minute of sit-ups, one minute of push-ups and a timed one mile run for youths and a much lighter test for the elderly. The trainer should be able to assess your physical condition after the test and determine the best exercise regimen to place you on. if you don’t have a trainer, there is no need to worry.
Furthermore, you can test yourself by determining the maximum amount of sit-ups or push-ups you can take and the longest distance you can run without exerting much strain on your systems. Pick this as your starting point and it can be increased gradually at intervals if you desire to push yourself further. The good news is that your body’s capacity for exercise increases as you consistently follow your regimen and you might even be pushing yourself further already without being aware of it.
SMART Goals Make Achievement Probable
However, it is important to have a regimen which is initially simple and follow it strictly. A complex or tasking regimen may out you off and make you lose interest. The initial plan may just consist of being aware of your normal activities and working around them to turn them into exercises. For example, timing yourself when you walk your dog, counting the number of pushes when you push your children or grandchildren at the swing, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator etc.
YOU GOT THIS!
You may then upgrade to light exercises such as walking 30 minutes for three times a week which can be upgraded to walking more intensely for 45 minutes five times a week. Soon, you will be able to walk every day of the week. Your daily plan should always accommodate at least 30minutes of intense exercise every day of the week.
Other forms of physical activity may be adapted into the regimen but walking is most often preferred because of it is generally safe and easy to carry out. Moreover, it incorporates a number of the components of physical activity. Sedentary time should be reduced as much as possible by engaging in frequent, less strenuous activities. You may also engage in sporting activities such as volleyball as they are a fun way to socialize and exercise at the same time although the risk of injuries may be increased.
Before performing any strenuous exercise, a warm-up is essential to get the body in tune. A warm-up serves various functions including:
- Minimizing the risk of injuries such as strains, muscle pulls, sprains and other such injuries
- Increasing blood flow to the muscles and extremities
- Increased flexibility
- Improved performance
Two Useful and Effective Tools
- Here is a downloadable warm up exercise document: Warm Up Exercises. ( Do It. One Simple Step, Will Change Your Direction!)
- Warm Up Exercise App
SOME EXERCISES YOU CAN ENGAGE IN
These are also known as aerobic exercises. They help to improve your breathing and heart rate. They focus on the cardiovascular component of physical fitness. Such exercises include:
- Brisk walking
These exercises serve to increase your muscle strength and make daily activities requiring strength easy. They include:
- Wall push ups
- Using resistance bands
- Water jug workouts
- Rope climbing
Get After It Like This Big Fella!
Flexibility exercises seek to maximize the range of motion of your muscles and joints, providing a greater freedom of movement during daily activities and exercise. Flexibility exercises include
- Dynamic stretching
Balance exercises serve to improve your balance and prevent falls which are a common problem in the elderly. Examples include:
- Leg swings
A discourse on physical fitness without any mention on nutrition is grossly incomplete as what you eat is a major determinant of how fit you can be. Proper nutrition helps attain and maintain total fitness. To keep fit and perform to an optimum level, you need to adopt healthy dietary habits although a good diet alone is not a substitute for exercise in maintaining physical fitness.
Always ensure you take a balanced diet, containing all classes of food in the right proportion and take a lot of water alongside. Whole grains, vegetable, fruits, cottage cheese, non-fat milk and other healthy foods should form the bulk of your diet. Your dietary intake of fats and oils should be limited as all you get from them is mostly extra calories and it is easy to consume too much, without even being aware.
High-sugar and nutrient poor foods such as sugar-sweetened soda and candy should also be taken as seldom as possible You should adopt a food-first approach to maintaining health and fitness. A professional nutritionist or dietician may be contacted if you have further questions or need help on how to adopt a healthy diet.
Safety is an important aspect of exercising and fitness because, among other reasons, avoiding injuries is an integral part of being physically fit. If you have a trainer, it is important to make the person aware of any health condition that may affect physical activities and exercise. Such health conditions may include asthma, heart diseases, clotting problems, and allergies, among others. Some important safety considerations when exercising include:
- Exercise regimen should always move from simple to complex schedules.
- Warm-up and cool-down should be performed before and after the training activity.
- Do not continue exercising when you begin to feel unusual pain or discomfort.
- Stay true to your exercise regimen and do not suddenly increase your workload
- Ensure you are properly hydrated before, during and after exercising.
- Endeavor to exercise in groups or at least with a partner whenever possible
Although injuries are not unusual during physical activities and exercises, may if the injuries that occur are preventable. Most injuries occur from overuse of muscles as many people tend to exercise too much and rapidly increase their workload. Most overuse injuries resolve with rest, applying ice packs, compression or elevation. Ensure you rest adequately between bouts of exercises in order to avoid injuries. If you experience chronic or acute and severe pain while exercising, ensure you contact your physician.
Your body loses water rapidly when exercising particularly in hot weather. Water is the major composition of cells in the body and it is essential for proper functioning, thus, lost fluids must be replenished. Depending on your exercise regimen, you may need to replace lost fluid while exercising or after the exercise for those on a lighter regimen.
Lot fluids may be replenished with water or a sports drink. Failure to maintain proper hydration while exercising may lead to early onset of fatigue which may be accompanied by muscle cramps. Furthermore, temperature regulation by the body becomes difficult and serious conditions such as heat cramps or heat strokes may occur. Here are some tips to maintain proper hydration:
- Drink enough water before exercising and ensure you have at least a bottle of water handy
- Drink water when you lose some through seating. Do not wait until you get thirsty as this is a sign of dehydration
- Avoid taking caffeinated beverages before, during or immediately after exercising as they promote dehydration
- Drink to satisfy your thirst after exercising and then drink some more
- It is possible to drink too much water. Ensure you limit you only take reasonable amounts of water.
Appropriate kits should be worn during exercise and physical activities to minimize the risk of injuries. Kits cover clothing, shoes, head gear and any item of clothing that may be donned when exercising. The following are some useful tips about exercise kits
- Clothes worn in warm weather should be comfortable and have a loose fit.
- Clothes worn in cold weather may be thick according to your preference and supporting accessories such as gloves and earmuffs should be worn to protect against frostbite.
- Do not put on plastic or rubberized suit during exercise
- Ensure you purchase the right shoe size and your shoes are comfortable when you try them on
- Do not go on a run or jog with any footwear other than comfortable sports shoes
- Always tie and untie your laces when putting them on or taking them off
Conclusively, physical fitness isn’t achieved in a day. Becoming fit is a process that requires consistency and devotion. Staying fit is another important consideration after achieving physical fitness. Thus, exercising and engaging in physical activities is a continuous process that should not be paused for any moment. It is not completely necessary to have a professionally designed exercise regimen and a trainer before you can keep fit. More importantly, however, a healthy diet should be adopted and you must ensure you are active all day. Remember, beyond the sense of fulfillment that comes with being fit, numerous health benefits also accrue and this makes the cause completely worth the time and energy.