The word fitness is commonly used, but do you know what it means? It is used to indicate Health, vigor, strength, energy. Each of these can be diminished by inactivity, which leads to a loss of muscle, functional ability, and increased weight, all indicators of low fitness levels. Low fitness increases risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, and more. People who are physically fit have better endurance, can do more things more easily, and generally live longer than those with low fitness.
It is important to diversify your exercise, and each one is important. Together, these make up a system that leads to high levels of physical fitness. The four components to physical fitness are:
1. Cardiorespiratory (heart and lungs) endurance is the ability to perform sustained physical activity, such as walking, swimming, running, etc.
2. Muscle strength and endurance are linked, and improved by resistance training, such as weight lifting.
3. Body composition is the body’s proportion of muscle, fat, and water. More muscle means greater fitness.
4. Flexibility is related to the range of a body’s movement and motion, and can be increased through consistently stretching muscles.
There is a correlation between exercise and weight, but thin does not mean fit, and the impact of physical activity goes beyond obesity. Coupled with good nutrition, exercise will reduce the risk of premature death, help maintain healthy bones and joints, elevate mood, and enhance performance. Fitness brings a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and some cancers. As muscle mass and metabolic rates increase, weight is balanced, chronic illnesses more easily managed, sleep improved. So, walk whenever you can. Park the car far from the entrance. Get off the bus early. Walk the dog. Dance. Clean the house with wild abandon. Weed by hand. Take the stairs. It all adds up.
Cardio/aerobic exercise is physical activity that requires the heart and lungs to work hard to meet the body’s increased oxygen demand, and is usually accomplished through repetitive movements of large muscle groups (arms, legs, hips). When you are aerobically fit, your body takes in and utilizes oxygen more efficiently in order to sustain this repetitive movement, and results in improved heart and lung function, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved blood sugar control, enhanced immune function, better cholesterol balance, and a longer life expectancy.
There is a world of aerobic exercise, so choose those that you enjoy. Running, fast walking, biking, and swimming are all good choices. In the gym, there are treadmills, elliptical trainers, spin cycles, and rebounders. Play with the kids. Dance. Make it fun!
Strength training involves the use of weights or other form of resistance to build muscle. With benefits similar to aerobic exercise, resistance training increases strength and endurance, improves balance, and revs up metabolism – the number of calories burned at rest. Muscle is active tissue (vs. the more inactive fat), so requires a lot of energy to function, burning about 60 calories per day. This means that adding 10 pounds of muscle will burn 62 pounds of fat over a year. Strength training is not just for young people, either. Studies show people in their 70s and 80s can see strength improve up to 180% in just a few weeks!
Free weights, weight machines, and circuit training are found in most gyms, and there are Soloflex, Bowflex, and Delta Trimax machines for home use. Pilates, Total Gym, and some yoga poses use body weight for resistance, and can be very effective, too.
Weight bearing exercises force muscles to work against gravity or resistance, which strengthens bones when stress causes new bone formation. The bone actually becomes denser and stronger. Studies show that weight bearing exercise can help slow bone loss and osteoporosis, thus reducing fractures, even in people well into their 90s.
Exercise that is weight bearing includes walking, running, jumping, hiking, stair climbing. One especially good form is rebounding, which can be done at home (mini-trampoline) or in a gym.
Tightness and constriction lead to reduction of blood flow to muscles and tissues, resulting in fewer nutrients and more buildup of metabolic waste. If not stretched regularly, muscles grow shorter, resulting in less flexibility and greater risk of injury. Stretching is the cure for tightness and restriction, so regular stretching promotes health, reduces muscle tension, enhances range of motion and circulation, reduces injury, increases energy, and feels great!
Proper breathing is a topic worthy of its own article. The concept is simple, and uses a device that restricts inhalations and exhalations. This strengthens the muscles involved in breathing, increasing lung capacity. These devices are inexpensive and widely available, and have been shown to increase breathing capacity by close to 300%.
Another key aspect of exercise is balance, which diminishes with age unless exercised, leading to falls and fractures.
To enhance balance, try this simple exercise:
• Stand with one hand on the back of a chair for support.
• Bend the knee nearest the chair 90 degrees, keeping your knees together.
• Get used to balancing on one leg while holding the chair, working toward standing without support. Once you do, work on holding your hands in front of you, prayer-like, as you stand in position. For more intensity, close your eyes.
• Repeat on other side.
Many yoga poses are specifically designed to improve balance, and can be used for variety, as can vibrating platform equipment.
Exercise is as important to good health as proper nutrition – and you need both. Adequate nutrition while exercising includes:
• Protein for muscle repair. Rice protein combined with yellow pea protein is exceptional.
• Carbohydrates, especially ultra-long-chain carbohydrates (ULCs) such as pre-sprouted barley, which release energy over several hours and do not spike blood sugar.
• High quality fats; especially omega-3s and 9s.
• Extra antioxidants to clear the metabolic byproducts of exercise.
• Minerals (electrolytes) and water soluble vitamins (B vitamins and C). Consider adding liquid trace minerals to your water.
If you don’t move you die. Exercise fundamentally changes every system and function in your body – keeping you moving and healthy.