Day 225 - What does it mean to be "fit"?
There are more and more arguments raging in the health and fitness industry presently about what a "fit" person really is. Some studies show that overweight, or "big-boned" individuals can still be fit, and that skinny, sedentary people can likewise be not-so-fit. Both of these cases can be true under the right circumstances.
There are also those individuals that try make themselves look or seem "fit" but really aren't at all. You may see that guy down at the local gym, bench-pressing 400 pounds and think to yourself, "Wow, that guy is really fit!" Or what about that female neighbor of yours who you see out running 20 miles a day and competing in multiple triathlons, you may also think, "Holy smokes, that lady is so fit." Keep in mind, overall fitness is not determined at doing one particular thing perfectly (the bench press) but being able to do a multitude of things really well.
One thing that we can agree on, however, is the fact that the world has a growing obesity epidemic, and that means there are many, many, many un-fit people out there.
One way many professionals like to test whether a person is "fit" or not is to use the BMI scale. Many of you are probably familiar with this. You can find the equation online, where you punch in your weight and height and it will give you a very general calculation. You then take that number and look at a scale to determine what "range" you fall in, such as "healthy", "overweight", "obese", etc.
The BMI system has many flaws, one of which is the way it groups all body types into one category. For example, a muscular football player may register a BMI of overweight or obese based on the amount of muscle mass that he possesses. The BMI scale can at least be an effective starting tool for the general public to let individuals gauge where they stand, and their dire need to lose some weight, but also shouldn't be used for everyone.
Another way the BMI scale is inaccurate is for the thin, sedentary people out there. Yes, we all know those people. They are the ones that, "Can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound!" There are certain individuals out there that have the body type that does not show much body fat, and if they were to test their BMI, they would receive a false sense of being "fit" because their height and weight works well in that calculation. The truth of the matter is that those of us that do not lead a lifestyle of regular exercise and a clean diet still pack on body fat, but can be in different places, such as packed around our internal organs.
Visceral fat, which is the fat that acts as protection and insulation around our internal organs, can be extremely dangerous because it has been shown to increase the likelihood of heart disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes, not to mention certain cancers. Some visceral fat is fine, but too much is problematic, so even though your BMI tells you that you are "fit", don't think for a second that pounding back a Big Mac and "litre of Cola" is good for you! Plus, more and more studies have shown that active, "fat" people have lower mortality rates than sedentary, "skinny" people. This has led to the creation of a new term in the health industry known as "skinny fat".
So, you say, if I can be "un-fit" whether I am skinny or fat, what exactly is fitness? Well, as basic as it can get, your level of fitness is your ability to perform in this world. We all lead different lives, with different goals as aspirations, but for most of us, if we can follow the guidelines listed below that determine our fitness level, we should for the most part be happier, healthier individuals!
1. Body Fat Percentage - This is the percentage of your overall weight that is composed of fat, or "adipose tissue". A number to aim for would be 10-14% for men and 14-18% for women. Anything slightly below that is super-fit, anything above that and you can afford to lose a few pounds. Being too far under also carries additional risks, so unless you are training to be in the Olympics, these numbers are pretty good for everyone! Excess weight has been shown to play a role in a myriad of issues from hormonal problems, impotence, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. The list goes on. Get your body fat under wraps!
2. Aerobic Performance - This is your body's way of transporting oxygen. It is the ability to perform in physical activity much more efficiently (yardwork, exercise, sex) and recover quicker from those types of activities. If you are out of shape, climbing a set of stairs can make you gasp for air, whereas a fit person could go for a nice easy run for an extended period of time and barely increase their breathing rate. A nice way of seeing how "fit" you are is by testing your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. As soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed, check your pulse and count how many beats you have in 15 seconds then multiply that by 4, that is your resting heart rate. Generally, anything below 70 is good, below 65 is excellent, and if you are in great shape, you may be wondering if you heart is beating at all! *Note, your resting heart rate will be elevated if you are fighting a cold/flu or have a cold/flu on its way*
3. Muscle - I preach this all the time. Everybody needs to do resistance training, men and women, young and old. Once you hit the age of 30 (approximately) your body starts losing more and more muscle mass every year, unless of course you do something about that! Your body needs a certain amount of muscle to survive (like fat) for things like movement, protection, and heat. Not to mention, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate is. That means, that you burn more calories even when you are sitting there reading this blog. Too much muscle can be problematic too though so don't overdo it, not that any of us really have the ability to overdo it without "cheating" (steroids). The more muscle we have, the better we can move things, including ourselves. Resistance training is short bouts of intense effort which stimulates certain hormonal productions in our bodies. These hormonal productions are vital to recycling old tissue and making fresh new tissue, reversing, or at least slowing the process of aging.
4. Stretching - Everybody should do a little bit of stretching every day of their lives. You do not need to be some zen-like yoga master that can fold your body up into a suitcase, but enough stretching to open up your muscles, ligaments and tendons to increase your circulation. Exercise and our daily lives cause muscles to shorten over time so stretching allows us to stay open and less prone to injury.
5. Balance - How many times have we all seen videos on TV or the internet of that silly old uncle falling into the pool, or toppling over the birthday cake because he lost his balance? Our balance deteriorates as we age, so it is vitally important that we practice our balance on a regular basis. Balance is the ability for our brain's internal computer system and mechanisms to control our center of gravity. The less you use it, the quicker it deteriorates. By training your balance you are keeping those neural pathways open so that your body can be more efficient at activating certain muscle groups to keep you from falling over!
6. Agility - This is somewhat related to balance, it is your ability to move your body in quick, sudden directions. If you are an athlete, agility is key to you performing better than your competitors. As you age, agility is key to you avoiding something falling from the ceiling, or a car that has jumped the curb, etc. I know, those are extreme examples, but even small things such as your kids or grandkids falling down is a great motivator to stay agile!
Quote of the day:
"If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying."
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