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What Is Physical Fitness?

Posted on 04/11/2008

Physical fitness is one of those hard-to-define concepts; we know it when we see it, but how, exactly, do you define it? Instead of a definition, let’s look at some characteristics and components of physical fitness.

Characteristics of Physical Fitness
When you’re physically fit, you’re healthy and your body functions the way it’s supposed to. You eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and rest well. Your weight is ideal for you—neither overweight nor underweight.

You have the strength and energy to carry out your normal activities; you don’t get fatigued easily. You have good resistance to disease and don’t catch every cold that comes around. You’re not at risk for lifestyle-related health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Physical fitness improves your emotional and mental health. You think more clearly and are generally happier when you are fit. You’re don’t get stressed out very easily and have good coping skills. You’re not easily overwhelmed.

Components of Physical Fitness
Although there is not universal agreement on the components of physical fitness, most experts, including the Centers for Disease Control, identify five main ones: cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition and flexibility.

Cardiorespiratory endurance is an indicator of how well your heart and lungs can supply oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and other organs. If your heart and lungs are healthy and you are fit, you can perform your normal activities without feeling out of breath. The more physically fit you are, the more you can do before you feel breathless. You can improve your cardiorespiratory endurance by gradually increasing the amount of aerobic (oxygen-using) exercise you do. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, jogging, bicycling, roller-blading and swimming.

Muscular strength is—well, it’s how strong you are. How much you can lift and carry. Muscular endurance is how long you can carry it without feeling muscle weakness and fatigue. Of course, we need muscular strength and endurance for our usual activities, but they are also important in preventing disability as we age. Muscle strength and endurance reduce bone fragility and joint problems. You can improve them with resistance exercises, such as lifting weights or push-ups.

Body composition is how much bone, muscle, fat and other tissues you have in your body. Most westerners have way too much fat and too little muscle. You can improve your body composition through a combination of diet, aerobic exercise and resistance exercises.

Flexibility is your ability to bend and twist with ease. We often become less flexible as we get older simply because we don’t move enough. Our joints become stiff through disuse. You can improve your flexibility by stretching.

Cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, body composition and flexibility—these are all components of physical fitness that we have control over. We can choose to be physically fit—and healthy—or not. Statistics say most of us are choosing not to be fit, and we are paying the price with an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other diseases. You, however, don’t have to be one of those statistics. You can choose instead to become physically fit and to enjoy good health.

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