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What does it mean to be Fit?

Many people strive to be fit. Fitness, after all, is synonymous with health, but what exactly does it mean to be fit?

There are many definitions and individual perceptions of ‘fitness’. While some might associate fitness with excelling in competitive activities, for our purposes, I will define fitness as the capability to carry out everyday tasks comfortably and with vigour. This kind of fitness can be referred to as ‘health-related physical fitness’ – having a healthy heart, strong muscles, and good mobility. Although this website only deals with health-related physical fitness, it is well-known that exercise (what you do to improve your fitness) also have a positive psychological effect, by promoting mental, social and emotional well-being.

Maintaining a good level of physical fitness is important. Having a high level of overall fitness is linked with a lower risk of chronic disease, better ability to manage health issues that do come up, and greatly improved functionality and mobility throughout your life span. In the short term, being active also improves your day-to-day functioning, from better mood to sharper focus to better sleep.

Simply put: Your body is meant to move, and it functions much better when you’re fit.

Components of Physical Fitness

Physical fitness can be divided into discrete components that can be broadly grouped into Metabolic fitness, Health-related and Skill-related. An individual’s level of ‘fitness’ in each of these distinct components can be determined, and adjusted independently through a targeted exercise programme.

Metabolic Fitness

Metabolic Fitness describes the body’s state of health when at rest. It is not a predetermined trait – it’s a description of your current state of health. The body is a dynamic machine and metabolic optimization is a continual process. Being ‘fit’ takes practice and improving metabolic fitness requires effort and repetition.

  • Blood pressure – normal BP is 120/80
  • Pulse rate – normal ranges from 60 to 100 pulses per min
  • Blood insulin – An insulin test measures blood samples for the amount circulating insulin. Normal values are 5 to 20µm/mL while fasting. Lower than normal suggest Type 1 diabetes and above normal level suggests Type 2 diabetes.

Health-related Fitness (aka Physiological Fitness)

Good health have a strong relationship with health-related components of physical fitness because it determines the ability of an individual to perform daily activities with vigour and demonstrate the capacities associated with low risk of premature development of hypokinetic (low levels of movement) diseases. The components of health-related fitness include Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Flexibility and Mobility, and Body Composition.

• Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Cardiorespiratory Fitness (aka Cardiovascular Endurance) is related to the ability to perform large-muscle, whole-body exercise at moderate to high intensity for prolonged periods. Terms commonly used to denote this component of physical fitness includes aerobic fitness and aerobic capacity.  Cardiorespiratory fitness is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the working muscles and for muscles to use this oxygen to do work, and is measured as the maximum volume of oxygen (VO2max) that can be delivered to those muscles during exercise.

The best types of exercise for improving cardiorespiratory fitness are those that involve the use of large muscle groups over a prolonged period of time at an intensity that is classed as aerobic, such as brisk walking (±100 steps per minute), hiking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing, etc. As the intensity of the exercise increases, the amount of oxygen required by the muscles to cope with the demands increases; therefore, the heart rate increases in proportion.

The most important health benefit associated with an increase in cardiorespiratory fitness is a reduced risk of Coronary Artery Disease by improving your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

• Muscular Strength and Endurance

Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance are two important aspects of your body’s ability to move, lift things and do day-to-day activities. Muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle or muscle group can put out over a short period of time, or the amount of weight you can lift. Strong muscles contribute to better posture, stability, joint support and balance. Strengthening muscles can make everyday activities like lifting groceries or picking up children much easier and safer.

Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to sustain repeated contractions over a prolonged period without getting tired. For instance, having good muscular endurance enables you to go for longer walks, perform more repetitions during exercises, and complete tasks without getting exhausted.

Both muscular strength and endurance have a direct impact on your quality of life by contributing to enhanced mobility, reduced risk of injuries, and greater functional independence as you age. Additionally, building muscle mass can boost your metabolism, aiding in weight management and promoting overall health. Muscular strength and endurance can be developed through resistance training. This involves working a muscle or group of muscles against resistance to increase strength and power. A gym or fitness centre is a good place to go if you’re interested in doing resistance training.

Of course, you don’t have to go to a gym or buy exercise equipment to improve muscular strength and endurance. Doing normal daily activities like lifting groceries or walking up and down stairs can also help. You can also do many exercises at home that don’t need equipment, such as push-ups and sit-ups. All you have to do is challenge your muscles to work harder or longer than they usually do.

• Flexibility and Mobility

Flexibility is the ability of tendons, muscles and ligaments to stretch sufficiently to allow joints to move through their full range of motion (mobility) without pain, which is fundamental for carrying out everyday activities. Mobility also includes factors like stability, coordination, and balance in addition to range of motion.

There are many factors that can lead to decreased joint mobility, such as injuries, medical conditions and aging. However, there are many things we can do to help prevent a decline in joint mobility, including regular exercise or simply being more active throughout the day, maintaining a healthy weight, proper posture, avoiding overuse and repetitive movements, proper nutrition and staying hydrated.

Maintaining good joint flexibility and mobility requires a well-balanced exercise routine that includes a range of different types of exercises. Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong are popular practices that can contribute to improving your strength, balance, flexibility and posture.

• Body Composition

Body Composition refers to the percentage of fat, bone and muscle in the body. Even though it is listed as a component of fitness, body composition is mainly of interest as an indicator of your state of health, given that excess body fat is associated with many health disorders, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidaemia (‘high cholesterol’), diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

From a ‘fitness’ perspective, excess body fat lowers your work to weight ratio, meaning a heavier person would consume more energy per minute of work resulting in a lower energy economy during activity. In addition, excess body fat places additional loads on joints causing joint distress.

Skill-related Fitness

Skill-related or Performance-related Fitness, often simply referred to as Motor Skills, encompasses a set of vital abilities including balance, co-ordination, agility, speed, power, and reaction time. Although typically associated with skill-related fitness, these components should be integrated into everyone’s Health-related fitness regimen, especially for older people. These skills are crucial for performing everyday activities, ranging from basic tasks like walking and climbing stairs, to more intricate movements such as engaging in sports or dancing.

As we grow older, a range of chronic conditions like arthritis, as well as a natural decline in motor skills, can lead to decreased mobility and independence. Nonetheless, regular physical activity and exercise can play a pivotal role in combating this decline. By making exercise a central part of a healthy lifestyle, you will not only preserve your motor skills but also take pleasure in a more active and rewarding life, regardless of your age.