Fitness refers to your ability to meet the physical demands of daily activities and still have enough energy to deal with the challenges of life. It plays a crucial role when it comes to your overall health status.
On a broad perspective, being physically fit has been linked to reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, improved mental health, and enhanced quality of life with age.
The components of fitness that are needed to achieve the above definition and benefits include the following:
Also known as aerobic fitness or cardiorespiratory endurance, cardiovascular endurance pertains to the ability of your heart and lungs to work together in order to supply oxygen and fuel to the various tissues during sustained workloads.
By performing regular exercise that challenges your heart and lungs, you can improve and maintain the efficient delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients. This will improve cellular metabolism and allow you to meet the physical challenges of everyday life.
Given the fact that cardiovascular disease accounted for 17.9 million deaths globally in 2016, starting a workout routine that improves cardiovascular fitness is therefore of paramount importance. Traditional activities like walking, running, cycling, swimming, circuit training or functional exercises will enhance cardiovascular fitness.
The key here is consistency. Experts recommend at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise. This may sound a lot, but it translates to just 15-30 minutes of exercise per day, depending on how hard you are willing to push yourself.
Muscular endurance is one of two determinants of overall muscular health. It refers to your ability to do repeated muscular contractions and prolonging the onset of fatigue while engaging in a specific task or activity
Think of a long-distance cyclist as an example. In order to continuously pedal over a long distance, a cyclist must develop fatigue-resistant muscles in the buttocks, thighs, and legs. These fatigue-resistant muscles epitomize high level of endurance.
Another good example of muscular endurance is holding a plank which develops core strength. The longer you are able to contract your abdominal muscles and maintain a steady position, the higher endurance you’ll have through your shoulders, abdominals, and hips.
Note, however, that muscular endurance is specific to muscle groups. You can develop greater endurance in some muscle groups without developing the same endurance level in other muscle groups. Moreover, the extent to which you decide to concentrate on developing muscular endurance must be directly related to your fitness goals.
For example, you may strive to develop enough endurance to complete daily household chores. But if you wish to become an endurance athlete who can compete in sports that require repetitive and sustained muscle contractions, like cycling, CrossFit or obstacle course races, you need to focus more on training routines that utilize high-repetition strength training in order to make you a better athlete.
Muscular strength pertains to the highest amount of force that a muscle or a muscle group can generate in one, all-out effort without any time limit. It is your one-rep max in strength training terms. Muscular strength can be increased by using weights and training in the 4 to 6 range. As a rule, the heavier the weight, the fewer repetitions you need to perform.
Muscular strength is muscle group-specific, just like muscular endurance. This means you may have exceptionally strong deltoids, but comparatively weak gluteals, or exceptionally strong quadriceps but comparatively weak pectorals. This is precisely the reason why a balanced strength training program that works out all major muscle groups is very important.
Note that the extent to which you train to increase muscle strength depends largely on your health and fitness goals. For example, if your focus is on health, you must be strong enough to carry out activities of daily living. In this case, increased muscular strength may just be another effect of a workout program that concentrates on developing muscular endurance.
You can actually improve muscular endurance and strength at the same time, but choosing a set and repetition scheme that suit your objectives is important. Let’s say your goal is to become stronger, then you must lift weights at the gym and push your muscles to the point of fatigue with every set. On the other hand, if your objective is to improve muscular endurance, you can work with lighter weights and do higher reps.
Either way, it is recommended that you do strength training 2 or 3 days a week using different exercises and equipment to engage all major muscle groups. You can do this along with cardiovascular training. For example, circuit training programs that combine cardio and strength exercises into a single bout can make your workout more efficient.
Flexibility refers to the ability of a specific joint to move through the available range of motion. The sit and reach test is frequently used to test flexibility. Just like muscular endurance and strength, flexibility is joint-specific. For example, you can have very flexible hips, but tight and inflexible shoulders.
Flexibility is very important at any given age because it plays a crucial role in unimpeded movement and it can have a considerable effect on your agility, balance, and coordination. If you maintain full range of motion for major joints, you can enhance athletic performance and reduce the risk of incurring injury.
Later in life, the importance of flexibility becomes more evident. Think of the elderly, most of them have flexibility issues. They have the characteristic ‘shuffling walk’ or have a tough time reaching over their heads. This affects their independence and overall quality of life. They find it difficult to perform activities of daily living like picking up objects on the floor, reaching for objects on high shelves, or just reacting properly to catch their balance if they begin to fall.
There is no such thing as a fountain of youth and you can’t stop the aging process, but protecting and maintaining mobility of your joints can keep you up and about even during your golden years. Adults are advised to perform flexibility exercises 2 or 3 days each week. This can be achieved through static stretching or through workouts that involve dynamic stretching exercises like Tai Chi, yoga, or Pilates.
Body composition refers to the ratio of fat mass, lean muscle mass, bone and organs that constitute the human body. This can be measured in several ways including underwater weighing, bioelectrical impedance, and skindfold readings.
Underwater weighing is generally regarded as the benchmark for fat measurement, although there are only a handful of places that are set up for this type of measurement because of the size and steep cost of the needed equipment.
Since high fat levels are often linked to negative health outcomes like type II diabetes and heart disease, achieving and maintaining ideal body composition is an objective of virtually all exercise programs.
Looking at it from a positive perspective, body composition is frequently the result of working on the four other components of fitness. If you exercise regularly, do stretching and strength training, you are building muscle mass while reducing fat mass. The end result is enhanced body composition and better fat- to fat-free mass ratio.
In order to achieve substantial improvements in body composition, you must determine what your starting point is. However, this does not mean simply weighing yourself because weight alone does not tell you anything about the composition of your tissues. The smart thing to do is talk to an expert about testing your body fat percentage. You can also consider investing on a scale that estimates body fat percentage by using bioelectrical impedance analysis. You may also take your own measurements and input the data into a body fat percentage calculator.
To qualify as being physically fit, women should have a body fat composition that is lower than 24%. Men should have it lower than 17%. On average, men have 18- 24% body fat, while women have 25-31%.