Questioning the Need for Fitness – Then and Now
Who remembers going through fitness testing all through school? I remember trying to run a mile at 9 years old. I was terrible, really slow. My teacher told me I needed to do better so I could be fit. What?? Then they made us try to stretch as far as we could on a box. Nailed it! Flexed arm hang? Give me a break. I had very little upper body strength. Get stronger. Okay. Now some sit-ups. Not too bad. They did all this testing, categorized us, told us to do better….then we square danced.
Now, I graduated from high school in 1995. In high school, the teachers tried to do better. We had fitness days twice a week where we ran. We also learned some weight lifting. I’m not really sure how fitness is taught to kids these days, I don’t have any myself.
But hopefully, schools are teaching them habits that lead to better health through exercising, including fitness regimens.
So, what is fitness?
Merriam-Webster defines physical fitness as “good health and strength achieved through exercise”. Organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine will give you categories for various aspects of fitness based on your gender and age. But is it necessary for you, as an adult, to know if you are considered fair, average, or excellent? If you’re an athlete, it may be important. But for average people? I’m not sure if assessment levels are as important as what is considered “fit” and being considered “healthy for each person.
There are five major components of fitness: body composition, flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness. A well-rounded exercise program will encompass all aspects. Body composition, the amount of fat mass and lean mass in your body, can be changed by exercise and diet. But let’s look at the other components a little more closely.
CRF, or cardiorespiratory fitness, is what most people feel is the most important. And it is very important. Improving your CRF has so many benefits: lower body fat, lower blood pressure, improved resting heart rate, improved function of your heart and lungs, and even lowers your risk of disease. So, I’d say that’s important. Walking, running, swimming and biking are just a few examples.
Muscular strength and endurance are also essential to health. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even if you’re just sitting around. Muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle, or group of muscles, can exert in one maximal effort. Muscular endurance is the ability for a muscle to contract repeatedly over time against force. Those sit-up tests and push-up tests tested muscular endurance. The grip test tested muscular strength. So, besides burning calories, why should you improve muscle?
Improving muscle helps you keep your body fat in check, maintains or improves, bone density, allows you to perform every day activities more easily, as well as those fun things you might enjoy.
Stretch it out
Flexibility is the final component of fitness; just as essential as the others. Flexibility refers to the ability to move a joint through a normal, pain-free range of motion. Lack of flexibility can lead to joint and muscle pain. Prolonged issues can actually result in the need for physical therapy or surgery. For example, you may have knee pain. Sometimes this pain can be caused by tight muscles and tendons that support the knee, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings. Flexibility training can alleviate those symptoms.
How I’m doing things…
It can be hard to figure out how to put all of these components into a workable schedule, even for exercise buffs like me. So, I’m going to share how I’ve recently changed my program up. I train five to six days per week. Three days per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) I do a full-body resistance training program with short intervals of cardio in a mini circuit. I do an upper body exercise, lower body exercise, then about one minute of jump rope. I repeat that two to three times then move on to different exercises until I do all major muscle groups. Then I end with 10 minutes or so of stretching. Two to three other days I do yoga for 30-40 minutes and walk with my dogs. This is my plan for the next six weeks. Then I’ll change it up again.
To stay motivated, know I need to change my routine a bit so that I am engaged and also learning new ways of keeping healthy through the various components of fitness.
While I questioned the purpose to the fitness exercises I was required to do in high school, now I understand more of its importance to overall health, especially as it relates to activities I love to do, like walking my dogs!
If I were not fit enough to do that, I’d be a very unhappy woman.
What do you love to do that requires you to stay in fitness shape so that you can engage in that activity? Are you working all of these components? What do you struggle with? I’d love to hear from you!