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- Exercise and Fitness FAQs
- The importance of physical activity and fitness
- Why should I be active?
- Can everyone benefit from physical activity?
- What are the recommendations for increasing fitness for youth, adults, and seniors?
- How do I get started with a fitness plan?
- When is a medical evaluation necessary?
- How can I make physical activity a part of my life?
- What are the components of physical fitness?
- Fitness terms
Quick GuideBenefits of Exercise: Fitness Facts Prove the Benefits of Working Out
When is a medical evaluation necessary?
Experts advise that people with chronic diseases, such as a heart condition, arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure, should talk to their doctor about what types and amounts of physical activity are appropriate. If you have a chronic disease and have not already done so, talk to your doctor before beginning a new physical activity program.
If you have symptoms that could be due to a chronic disease, you should have these symptoms evaluated, whether you are active or inactive. If you plan to start a new activity program, take the opportunity to get these symptoms evaluated. Symptoms of particular importance to evaluate include chest pain (especially chest pain that is brought on by exertion), loss of balance (especially loss of balance leading to a fall), dizziness, and passing out (loss of consciousness).
Making physical activity a part of your life
"You can't change where you came from. You can change where you are going."
Just knowing that physical activity is good for us doesn't mean that we'll easily be able to make it part of our daily routines-it's sometimes difficult to adopt new habits. But it's important to remember that you can start out slowly and work your way up to a higher level of activity.
This section provides ideas for how to make physical activity part of your life and how to do it safely.
Components of physical activity
What does it mean to be physically "fit?" Physical fitness is defined as "a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity" (USDHHS, 1996). In other words, it is more than being able to run a long distance or lift a lot of weight at the gym. Being fit is not defined only by what kind of activity you do, how long you do it, or at what level of intensity. While these are important measures of fitness, they only address single areas. Overall fitness is made up of five main components:
- Cardiorespiratory endurance
- Muscular strength
- Muscular endurance
- Body composition
In order to assess your level of fitness, look at all five components together.
What is "cardiorespiratory endurance (cardiorespiratory fitness)?"
Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of the body's circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel during sustained physical activity (USDHHS, 1996 as adapted from Corbin & Lindsey, 1994). To improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, try activities that keep your heart rate elevated at a safe level for a sustained length of time such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. The activity you choose does not have to be strenuous to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance. Start slowly with an activity you enjoy, and gradually work up to a more intense pace.
What is "muscular strength?"
Muscular strength is the ability of the muscle to exert force during an activity (USDHHS, 1996 as adapted from Wilmore & Costill, 1994). The key to making your muscles stronger is working them against resistance, whether that be from weights or gravity. If you want to gain muscle strength, try exercises such as lifting weights or rapidly taking the stairs.
What is "muscular endurance?"
Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to continue to perform without fatigue (USDHHS, 1996 as adapted from Wilmore & Costill, 1994). To improve your muscle endurance, try cardiorespiratory activities such as walking, jogging, bicycling, or dancing.
What is "body composition?"
Body composition refers to the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital parts of the body (USDHHS, 1996 as adapted from Corbin and Lindsey, 1994). A person's total body weight (what you see on the bathroom scale) may not change over time. But the bathroom scale does not assess how much of that body weight is fat and how much is lean mass (muscle, bone, tendons, and ligaments). Body composition is important to consider for health and managing your weight!
What is "flexibility?"
Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint (USDHHS, 1996 as adapted from Wilmore & Costill, 1994). Good flexibility in the joints can help prevent injuries through all stages of life. If you want to improve your flexibility, try activities that lengthen the muscles such as swimming or a basic stretching program.