The Real Meaning of Fitness

Many people think that a lean and toned body is a sure sign of “being fit” but they are missing out on the real meaning of fitness. It’s not surprising that this is the image that comes to mind because these are the kind of bodies that are used in ads for gyms or fitness equipment. Firm muscles and a low body fat percentage can be one of the signs of fitness but you don’t have to look like that to be fit.

So what does “being fit” really mean? This is an important question because people either try too hard to be in shape and injure themselves since they think they have to look a certain way or they don’t even bother trying to get in shape since they believe they can never achieve that “look”.

Actually, being fit does not have much to do with how your body looks but has everything to do with how your body performs. Here are several definitions of fitness:

The S-factors of fitness.
I believe that a more complete definition comes from the book “Physiotherapy” by Christopher Norris. He says being fit means having the “S-factors”: Stamina, suppleness (flexibility), strength, speed (rate of movement and power), skill (athletic and motor), specificity (what you need to be fit for), and spirit (psychological aspect).

Functional fitness means having all these factors at a level that is necessary for your lifestyle and goals. An Olympic-class athlete requires a different level of fitness compared to someone who only plays a weekend sport.

No matter how sedentary your lifestyle you should have all the S-factors (at a minimum level) to be able to do routine activities of daily living without getting fatigued or injured.

You should also, at the very least, be fit enough to stay healthy and prevent lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.

Health versus fitness.
Good health and fitness do not always go together. As paradoxical as it may sound, an individual can actually be fit and unhealthy.

If health is defined as the absence of disease and fitness is defined as the ability to do a given task effectively and safely, then it is possible for someone who lifts weights and has strong muscles to have clogged arteries. This could be due to bad genes, a poor diet, smoking, or high stress levels.

Drug, supplement, and herbal abuse can also be the reasons why someone can be fit and unhealthy. Thus there are cases of superbly fit athletes dying of heart or liver ailments.

I remember a fitness instructor who was taking steroids and was constantly on a very high-protein diet to maintain her “six-pack” abdomen and her extremely lean body. She was always catching a cold and eventually caught pneumonia. Ironically, even though she was very fit, she was less healthy than her unfit clients.

Generally speaking, however, fit people live longer than unfit people according to studies done by the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research. Head researcher Stephen Blair found that physically fit men are 53 percent less at risk of premature death than sedentary men while physically fit women are 98 percent less at risk of premature death than inactive women.

How much fitness do you need to lower your risk of premature death? Blair’s research found that for women, walking two miles in less than 30 minutes at least three days a week or walking two miles in 30 to 40 minutes five to six days a week. For men, walking two miles in less than 27 minutes at least three days a week or walking two miles in 30 to 40 minutes six to seven days a week.

How fit do you want to be?
You need to seriously ask yourself how fit you want to be because it will determine how much time and effort you need to put into your exercise program. In my opinion, fitness can come in four levels: Health, function, aesthetics, and sports performance.

Studies show that thirty minutes daily of any kind of physical activity (including lifestyle activities like gardening and house cleaning) seems to be the minimum requirement to maintain basic health.

For functional fitness (and average aesthetic results), a sample program can be 30 minutes of low to moderate cardiovascular exercise three times a week, 20 minutes of resistance training (an example is lifting weights) twice a week (one set of 12 to 15 repetitions, one exercise per body part) and stretching exercises three times a week (one stretch per body part held for 15 to 30 seconds).

To achieve the so-called “fit” look as well as higher levels of stamina, strength and flexibility, a typical program could look something like this: 45 to 60 minutes of moderate to high intensity cardio exercise (walking, running, cycling, dancing) four to six times a week, one hour of resistance/flexibility training three times a week (weights, Pilates machines, yoga,). Needless to say, proper nutrition is also very important.

Being fit for sports performance requires an exercise program made specifically for the sports plus hours of practice. That’s why athletes are considered the elite of the fitness world.

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