Fitness is an obvious key to overall wellness. Though it may be surprising to some, fitness is easier than many think. Fitness levels aren’t necessarily readily apparent by looking at someone either. I’ve attended and participated in many races, walks and rides and it’s not always the most fit looking individuals that are having a strong finish. So, although you may not feel that you have the typically “fit” body type it doesn’t mean you aren’t, can’t or won’t be fit. Cardio fitness is the key! Having a strong, healthy heart is the most important thing on which to focus. If you make having a strong heart your goal, other things like weight loss, stronger muscles, stronger bones and increased lung capacity will naturally follow.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “FIT”?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical fitness is defined as ‘the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.’ A lot of people today huff and puff after walking from the car into their workplace, or walking around the grocery store. Our lives are no longer designed to maintain physical fitness. In years past just living promoted fitness, working to grow or gather our own food, hunting, building our dwellings, carrying water, were all physical tasks. Humans didn’t have time to sit around and become unfit. If they did, it was because they were dying! In their book, Younger Next Year, Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD, cover this evolutionary phenomenon in detail.
WHY IS FITNESS IMPORTANT?
With most Americans today leading sedentary lifestyles the importance of getting regular exercise to stay fit has become even more important than in the recent past. Exercising regularly and increasing your cardio fitness works to decrease your risk of many diseases. This includes heart disease which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Other diseases that are reduced include diabetes, stroke, and colon cancer. Exercise also helps to increase lung capacity, getting more oxygen to your brain more easily. It also helps to improve joint health and flexibility as well. One of the other main reasons people begin to exercise is to control their weight. All these effects combine to help to reduce the effects of aging on our bodies, and add years to your life.
In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, there are many mental benefits as well. Exercise is shown to release endorphins into the blood stream which help reduce stress and elevate moods. Studies show that it can even have a positive impact on mild depression. People who exercise on a regular basis have generally better self esteem and attitude toward life. They sleep better at nights and have more energy throughout the day. Studies also show that they have better memories.
Another, rather unexpected, benefit of exercise is that, because many people workout in groups, it satisfies another basic need… human connection. Even if exercise only takes place once in a while with other people, this very necessary social interaction has mental health benefits. A great example of this is Mom & Baby exercise classes. New mothers often feel isolated and overwhelmed. Many yearn for an adult to talk to throughout the day. Mom & Baby classes provide an important outlet for new moms to get exercise, adult conversation, and connection. It’s a great place to get babies socialized as well!
HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS NECESSARY TO GET FIT?
The amount of exercise needed has been a point of great debate for a number of years. Some sources say that at least a half an hour a day, five times a week is the minimum requirement. Others state that one can start with as little as 5-10 minutes a day or even just a couple of times a week and gain some benefit. However, getting some sort of exercise every day will help reap the benefits more quickly. Of course, the more you exercise, the more stamina you will build and the more you will be able to exercise. Once you begin to feel the benefits it is easier to stay motivated and WANT to exercise more.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH EXERCISE?
Yes there is. It is well known that some individuals can become obsessed or addicted to exercise. This is particularly well documented in cases of anorexia nervosa, where exercise is overly used in combination with other things, to lose weight. This use of exercise is classified as a mental illness and is not something the majority of people are prone to. Recently however, studies have been indicating that years of endurance training can actually be damaging to the heart. This has been shown in individuals who train for and participate in a number of marathons, ultra-marathons, and Ironman triathlons. Again, it is not something the general exerciser has to worry about. If you are looking to become more fit or maintain fitness, the current guideline is 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise is plenty.
LOW IMPACT VS HIGH IMPACT, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Low and High impact exercise are terms that are sometimes used to describe the cardio intensity of the workout. But there is much more to it than that. The impact level also indicates whether your feet are leaving the ground and how much. Hiking and elliptical machine workouts are considered low impact because one of your feet is always on the ground, there is little to no jarring effect on your bone structure. High impact exercise such as running where both feet are off the ground for a split second cause more of a pounding effect on your skeleton. Low impact exercise includes cycling and swimming as well as other water exercises like aqua jogging are water aerobics. These type of activities are great for individuals with any type of joint issue or beginners at exercise. Your heart rate doesn’t increase as much as with high impact workouts such as running or jump roping. High impact exercise has the benefit of a greater cardio workout and has been shown to build bone density. High impact exercise should be reserved for those without bone or joint issues and with a moderate to high level of fitness.
Being active and fit is so essential to overall wellness I’m going to borrow from Nike and say JUST DO IT!!! The benefits can be noticed very quickly after beginning, especially the mental health benefits! Be patient with yourself and realize that every little bit helps on your journey to wellness.