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Posted by Barry on Apr 26, 2011

What Does It Mean To Be Fit?

Webster’s tells us that fitness is “the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms”; Dr. Fred Hatfield, in his book Fitness: The Complete Guide, gives us a more layman’s view by defining it as: “Your ability to meet the exigencies of your lifestyle with ease and room to spare for life’s little emergencies.” Both definitions refer to functioning in the present as the main indicator.

Fitness is, in the simplest terms, your ability to perform in the world. We all have different goals and agendas. But there are a few things that we all share, no matter what kind of life we lead. If we consider the eight parameters below, and if we can perform them decently, we can consider ourselves to be fit. And, more than anything else, a fit life is probably a lot more fun than a non-fit one.

Body-fat Percentage: This is the percentage of your total body weight that is composed of fat. Ten percent to 14 percent is considered good for men, and 14 percent to 18 percent is considered good for women. Unless you’re a weight-dependent athlete or a fitness model, you don’t need to go to extremes, but all of us should strive to be within this range. Being far under it has health risks too but going above it is what most of us need to worry about—and what the obesity epidemic sweeping the world is focused on. Not only does excess weight put our bodies under extra strain, but excessive amounts of fat change our abilities to function properly. So far more than your weight, you should be focusing on keeping your body-fat percentage within this range.


Aerobic Endurance: This is how efficiently your body transports oxygen. It’s a baseline fitness parameter that aids every more intensive fitness effort, from yard work to sex to running a marathon. Indicators of good aerobic fitness are a low resting heart rate and the ability to recover quickly after cardiovascular activity. You help increase this endurance by doing any type of activity but more efficiently when you do continuous low-level activity, like hiking or jogging.


Muscle Mass: Like body fat, our bodies require a certain percentage of muscle to stay healthy. This varies per individual, but we all need muscle to meet the tasks of daily living. Above the age of 30, our bodies lose muscle mass each year, so it’s important to do resistance exercise to keep muscle mass. Besides aiding movement, muscle mass protects our organs and skeletal structures. To age gracefully, it’s vital to keep our muscle mass percentages high.


Flexibility: This isn’t the ability to do pretzel style yoga movements but simply your ability to move your body freely through a full range of motion. It’s important that we stretch our muscles because they contract during exercise and the daily rigors of living. Keeping your muscles supple gives you a buffer against being injured and is an indicator of overall fitness. It will help you age without as many complications.


Strength: Strength is the ability to use your muscles to generate force. It’s often defined in more specific terms, like limit, starting, or explosive strength, but they’re all a variation on the same theme—your body needs to be able to move stuff around. Most importantly, it needs to move you around. As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength. Mass protects your body. Strength moves it and keeps it from falling over. Furthermore, strength training requires short bouts of high-intensity outputs. These stimulate hormonal responses that also decline as we age. In a nutshell, strength training slows the aging process. The stronger you are, the slower you age.


Static Balance: This is your ability to maintain control of your body’s center of gravity over your base of support. The importance of this ability is obvious, since life’s no fun if you’re always toppling over. It requires use of all of the aforementioned factors, and the best way to get it is to practice. What’s really important is that to stay in balance your body uses smaller muscles, called stabilizer muscles (the large ones you see are called prime mover muscles); and these help keep your joints tracking properly. A person with good balance has less chance of incurring an injury, especially an injury due to overuse.


Dynamic Balance: This is the same as the above, except you control your center of gravity while in motion. The eccentric motions created in practicing dynamic balance not only stimulate hormonal responses but fire something called high-threshold muscle cell motor units. It’s important to train dynamic balance as you age and, symbiotically, training this action helps keep you young.


Agility: This is your ability to move dynamically in different directions quickly and randomly. It requires that you use starting strength, explosive strength, limit strength, and dynamic balance in combination, so all of those areas must be conditioned. Plyometric training, like in P90X, in combination with stretching, helps you stay agile as you age.

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