Being fit means different things to different people. For some, it’s the ability to run long distances or lift heavy weights. It could be to do with measurements and body fat percentage. For others, it will be to be functional in all parts of their lives.
Key components of fitness include aerobic fitness, muscular strength, body composition, power, and flexibility, and they are all important. The type of training you undertake can improve each of these. There are plenty of people who could bench press their own bodyweight but would struggle for breath if they tried to run 5K, and there are distance runners who are not able to do a pull up, or a set of press ups.
If you want to get scientific, there are labs to test aerobic fitness by measuring your VO2Max. This is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen you can make use of during exercise and is commonly used to measure endurance. Like most measures of fitness, VO2 Max declines with age, but by engaging in physical activity that makes you breathe heavily, you can improve it.
While you can’t do a full VO2 Max test without specialised equipment, you can use your time for a 1.5 mile run to assess aerobic fitness for your age.
When it comes to strength, most of us want to be functionally strong, and to be able to lift, move and carry whatever we need for our day to day lives.
Both muscle strength and bone density decline with age, but resistance or weight training can reverse that decline.
There are a number of ways to assess strength, such as testing the maximum amount of weight a person can squat, bench press or deadlift for a small number of repetitions. Alternatively, a simple press up test. These tests provide a useful baseline from which to make phased improvements.
Assessing body fat is another useful measure. While not all fat is bad, there are certain forms of fat, like belly fat, that can indicate the presence of potentially dangerous fat around your organs.
Body composition is a measure of lean mass – how much of your weight is muscle and bone, and how much is fat. According to the American Council on exercise, body fat percentages for men should be below 25%, and below 32% for women. To change your body composition, you should use both diet and exercise to burn fat and build muscle.
Power is a key measure of fitness too.
When we think about things like preventing falls, strength is very important, but so is power because it’s the ability to rapidly adjust using the muscles to catch yourself.
A vertical jump is the easiest way to test power.
I use many ways to measure to my clients’ flexibility during our sessions, but an easy and initial ‘at home’ test anyone can do is to sit on the floor and reach towards your toes.
How to know that you’re Fit
You don’t necessarily need to track all of these measurements to make sure that you’re healthy and fit.
The easiest way to ensure that you’re getting enough exercise is just to make sure you meet the basic fitness recommendations. To meet the minimum fitness guidelines you should try to put in average of about 30 minutes per day for 5 days – like a 30 minute brisk walk, or a casual bike ride. Then 2 days should include resistance training that involves weights or bodyweight exercises which will strengthen bones and muscles. Also try to mix in some stretching for flexibility.
If that sounds like a lot, you can get your weekly dose of aerobic exercise faster by doing vigorous exercise like running or swimming – anything that gets your heart pumping for about 75 minutes a week.
If you’re not doing that, it’s a great place to start. And if you are, you can always try to build up your fitness – it’s one of the best things you can do for both your body and brain.