What is physical fitness, and do I need it, or even want it to be a part of my life? Physical fitness is often defined as the ability of your body systems to work together efficiently to allow you to be healthy and effectively perform activities of daily living. A fit person can perform daily activities with the least amount of effort and still have the energy and vigor to enjoy sports, and even respond to emergency situations.
When you were a child you were very active and really didn’t think about, or were concerned about your fitness. Most people as they grow older, especially after 40, become less active and, as a result, become less fit. Developing a plan of regular exercise or activity can maintain or improve fitness and avoid disability, and a sedentary lifestyle. Choosing an activity or exercise you enjoy, and is good for you, is important. Getting fit and staying fit can be fun and the benefits to your health are enormous.
Fitness can be divided into three components: flexibility, strength and endurance. Fitness requires exercise, and optimal fitness requires all three components. Flexibility is the most neglected, and signs that it needs improvement are stiffness, tightness, pain in muscles, and decreased range of motion of joints. Ways of increasing flexibility are stretching, yoga, and Pilates done on a regular basis or daily. This is more important as we age and helps prevent stiffness, maintains mobility, and joint function.
Most people underestimate the value of stretching for overall body function and joint health. Strength training has been over estimated as far as risks, and under estimated as far as benefits. Signs of needed improvement include weakness, difficulty performing routine daily activities, fatigue, joint discomfort, and fat accumulation. Strength exercise includes pushups, squats, lifting weights, and resistance bands and machines. Start with light weights and more repetitions, and allow at least one day’s rest between workouts. Some experts suggest twice a week and slowly increase weights and repetitions.
As we age strength training often determines our ability to do almost everything, and keeps us independent, prevents injuries, and maintains joint function. Endurance exercise improves our cardiovascular system so it can deliver blood, oxygen, and energy to our body. This is vital and so important for maintaining health of our heart, lungs, muscles, blood vessels, and brain. Signs of need for improvement include lack of energy, shortness of breath, fatigue, and high blood pressure. Endurance exercise includes walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, jumping rope and dancing to name a few good ones. Thirty minutes a day is recommended, and at least five days a week is good.
Exercise and fitness give you freedom to do what you want to do at any age. You can eat more calories, feel less stress, take fewer medications, feel less dependent on others, improve your health, and live longer and better. As you become more fit you are less likely to say “Sorry, I can’t do that” or “I am afraid to even attempt to do that activity anymore”. As you become more fit, you feel and act younger, and your self-esteem will be much greater. You will be more likely to reach your full potential - intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Let us all work to be more fit for ourselves, our families, our work, our communities, and our nation. Physical fitness is truly one of the keys to a successful and happy life.
Dr. Eichelberger practices part-time office gynecology at Greenwood Obstetrics and Gynecology and teaches on the faculty at the Montgomery Family Practice Residency Program. He is also co-chairman of the Ethics Committee at Self Regional Healthcare and serves as the Associate Medical Director of Hospice Care of the Piedmont. Send comments to: Doctor’s Prescription, PO Box 36, Ninety Six, SC 29666.