Fitness: Definition, factors, and types

Maintaining a good level of physical fitness is something that we should all aspire to do. But it can be difficult to determine what fitness entails. Here we answer the question: what does being physically fit mean?

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, physical fitness is defined as “a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity.”

This description goes beyond being able to run fast or lift heavy weights. Despite being important, these attributes only address single areas of fitness. This article provides details of the five main components of physical fitness.

Fast facts on fitness:

Maintaining physical fitness can help prevent some diseases.

With exercise, body composition can change without changing weight.

Athletes’ hearts show different changes dependent on their chosen sport.

Muscle strength increases by fiber hypertrophy and neural changes.

Stretching to increase flexibility can ease a number of medical complaints.

Overview

yoga balls and weights

Being physically fit depends on how well a person fulfills each of the components of being healthful.

When it comes to fitness, these components include

cardiorespiratory fitness

muscular strength

muscular endurance

body composition

flexibility.

So, you can tell if someone is physically fit by determining how well they perform in each component.

Here we will look at them all individually.

Cardiorespiratory performance

Cardiorespiratory endurance indicates how well our body can supply fuel during physical activity via the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems. Activities that help improve cardiorespiratory endurance are those that cause an elevated heart rate for a sustained period.

These activities include:

swimming

brisk walking

jogging

cycling

People who regularly take part in these activities are more likely to be physically fit in terms of cardiorespiratory endurance. It is important to begin these activities slowly and gradually increase the intensity.

Exercising increases cardiorespiratory endurance in a number of ways. The heart muscle is strengthened so that it is able to pump more blood per heartbeat.

At the same time, additional small arteries are grown within muscle tissue so that blood can be delivered to working muscles more effectively when needed.

How does heart health change with exercise?

The heart changes and improves its efficiency after persistent training. However, more recent research shows that different types of activity change the heart in subtly different ways.

All types of exercise increase the heart’s overall size, but there are significant differences between endurance athletes, like rowers, and strength athletes, like football players. Endurance athletes’ hearts show expanded left and right ventricles, whereas strength athletes show thickening of their heart wall, particularly the left ventricle.

How does lung health change with exercise?

While the heart steadily strengthens over time, the respiratory system does not adjust to the same degree. Lung function does not drastically change, but oxygen that is taken in by the lungs is used more effectively.

In general, exercise encourages the body to become more efficient at taking on, distributing, and using oxygen. This improvement, over time, increases endurance and overall health.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week for 30-60 minutes, at an intensity that keeps the heart rate at 65-85 percent of the maximum heart rate.

Health benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness

Cardiorespiratory fitness has been found to help reduce the risk of conditions including:

heart disease

lung cancer

type 2 diabetes

stroke

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Strength

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines muscular strength as “the ability of muscle to exert force during an activity.”

There are a number of ways to measure muscular strength. Generally, lifting or pushing something of a set weight in a prescribed position and comparing the results against any given population is the best way.

In general, if a muscle is worked consistently and regularly, it will increase in strength. There are various ways of putting your muscles through rigorous activity, but anything that works a muscle until it is tired will increase muscle strength over time.

How does muscle structure change with exercise?

Muscles consist of elongated muscle cells. Each muscle cell contains contractile proteins – actin and myosin – that give the muscle its strength. These fibers contract together, producing the so-called power stroke. The total force depends on the number of these units contracting in unison.

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