Fitness: A Great Step to a Healthy You
The word "fitness" strikes fear in the hearts of many of us. When you hear the word, you may picture yourself sweating it out on the treadmill for hours at a time, or swimming reluctant laps in a seemingly never-ending pool. But real fitness actually has nothing to do with torturing yourself on various gym machines; instead, it is about helping your body to be the best that it can be. Fitness not only provides you with a great way to help you lower your risk of serious illness and disease, it can also increase your energy, boost your mood, and heighten your self-esteem. And fitness can be fun too! Here are some of the basics about physical fitness and how to incorporate a fitness routine into your lifestyle.
What is Fitness?
Though we hear the word a lot, many of us may not actually know what fitness is. There are actually two types of fitness: performance fitness and health fitness.
- Performance fitness is what most professional athletes are involved in. This type of fitness focuses on improving performance and activity times, and is based on stringent training and goals.
- Health fitness is what is recommended for most individuals. This type of fitness is a measure of your overall health and wellbeing, and involves performing activities that are designed to make the most of your physical and emotional health.
Why is Fitness Important?
Fitness actually plays a very important part in your overall health and wellbeing. Engaging in regular fitness activities can offer you a number of wonderful benefits, including:
- increased energy
- better sleep patterns
- improved mood
- improved self esteem
Regular fitness can also help to lower your risk of dangerous illnesses, including:
- heart disease
- cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke)
Exercises that Improve Fitness
In order to achieve true physical fitness, it is recommended that you participate regularly in activities that fall into each of the following three categories:
Aerobic fitness is a measure of how well your heart is supplying your muscles and organs with oxygen and nutrients. The less your heart has to work to supply these things, the better your level of aerobic fitness, and the less chance you have of suffering from cardiovascular disease. Aerobic fitness can be improved by engaging in activities that help to increase your heart rate for an extended period of time. Aerobic activities are usually rhythmic and involve the major muscle groups. Types of aerobic activities include walking, running, swimming, and cycling.
Strength refers to how well your muscles can endure activity. Strong muscles help you to get activities done with less energy and help to protect and support the bones, tendons, and ligaments. Strength training exercises should form a part of any type of fitness regimen, and help to build the strength and mass of all the muscle groups. Strength training activities often include weight lifting, resistance training, and swimming.
Flexibility is often overlooked when it comes to overall fitness. But flexibility is an important part of your health and wellbeing; after all, when your muscles and joints are flexible you can enjoy full range of movement and reduce your chances of muscle injury. Flexibility exercises should be included in every fitness routine, and can include slow stretching, yoga, or pilates.
Starting Your Own Fitness Routine
If you are thinking about starting your own fitness routine, you will need to know a few basics first. Here are some ways to go about developing a fitness routine that will work for you.
Assess Your Fitness Level
Before starting off on any exercise routine, it is a good idea to get your fitness level assessed. Many gyms offer fitness assessments, or you can do one yourself. Fitness assessments help to tell you where you should be starting off in your fitness training and provide you with benchmarks that you can use to compare against later on. This will help you to see how you've progressed. Your fitness assessment can include:
- a measure of your BMI (body mass index)
- a measure of your waist circumference
- a measure of the time it takes you to walk one mile
- a reading of your resting heart rate (when you aren't active) and a reading of your heart rate after walking one mile
Speak With Your Health Care Provider
It is important for anyone who hasn't exercised in a while to speak with their health care provider about starting up an exercise routine. It is particularly important to speak with your health care practitioner if:
- you are overweight or obese
- have had a heart attack or suffer from heart disease
- suffer from a chronic disease, like osteoporosis, arthritis, or fibromyalgia
- have an existing muscle or joint injury
Make a Fitness Plan
Your fitness plan should include the types of activities you want to pursue and when you are going to engage in those activities. It is generally recommended that healthy men and women get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. If you are engaging in more rigorous exercise, you need to get 20 minutes at least 3 times a week. However, it is important to start off slowly and methodically. Begin with just ten minutes of exercise a day, and don't forget to stretch before and after. This will help to ensure that you are exercising safely and preventing injury.