The first factor often discussed with physical fitness is the cardiovascular and respiratory components of fitness. It includes the ability to perform aerobic activities like walking, to more intense exercise like sprinting. Aerobic activities increase the heart rate for a sustained period and improve the strength of the heart as a muscle and maintain the integrity of the vascular system. The lungs are a partner in this system moving air, extracting and delivering the needed oxygen. The recommended amount of aerobic conditioning is five times a week for 30 minutes total at 65% maximum heart rate for your age. Exercise can be done in small segments daily, 5-10 minutes at a time, while maximum heart rate is calculated from (210) – (your age) = (maximum heart rate).
Muscular strength is the ability of muscles to exert adequate force during activity. Any activity that works muscles against resistance and that causes muscle fatigue will increase strength. Muscle strengthening can be done by any number of activities such as weight training, using a rowing machine, performing Pilates, doing Tai Chi, or even just using gravity and your body for resistance. A physical therapist or an athletic trainer can often set one up with a program to build muscle strength. Along with exercise, protein from your diet is required for muscle development.
A third component of fitness is endurance, which is classified as the ability of muscles to continue to exert effort over a period of time without tiring. Two types of muscle fibers are used for endurance activities and they are slow twitch and fast twitch fibers. The slow twitch fibers are those used to perform endurance activities. They need lots of oxygen and can carry out prolonged tasks without fatigue. The fast twitch fibers contract quickly, can be used for sprint type activities and do not require significant blood and oxygen.
The most nebulous component of fitness is body composition. This is the relative amount of muscle, bone, water and fat in a person’s body. Your genetics, your fitness routine and your diet help to determine your body composition. The body type of a distance runner will be different from a weightlifter or a swimmer. The overall issue would be to have an appropriate body composition for the activities that one wants to perform and avoid having a high level of body fat.
The last component of physical fitness is having overall flexibility, the range movement across your joints. It is dependent on the tightness of muscles, tendons and ligaments across your joints. As one becomes older, deterioration of the joints from the natural aging process can sometimes limit flexibility. Surgical procedures such as fracture repairs, spinal fusions or joint replacements can also limit flexibility. Stretching exercises are often necessary to maintain flexibility. Again, some exercises like yoga and Tai Chi are excellent ways to maintain flexibility as part of a fitness program. If you have low back or neck issues, flexibility and stretching are helpful to reduce pain by preventing excessive muscle tightness. Muscles naturally try to tighten to prevent too much movement of a possibly painful area such as a joint. However, maintaining more normal motion in an area tends to improve structure health and decreases pain from abnormal stress on the region.
Physical fitness means maintaining regular exercise to benefit your health. It involves five aspects: cardiorespiratory performance, strength, endurance, flexibility and body composition. Optimizing each of the above components leads to becoming physically fit. It is a process and needs to be done on a daily basis.