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Fitness is far more than simply exercising on a consistent basis. Fitness has a variety of components and there are many ways it can be measured. With a solid understanding of this topic, individuals can address those aspects of their life that directly impact fitness.
Definition of Fitness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical fitness is defined as 'the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.' Based on this definition, fitness involves everything from getting out of bed to hiking to performing CPR.
In order to complete all of these tasks, one must consistently address their fitness levels. This requires proper conditioning through both structured exercise and leisurely activities.
Components of Fitness
Depending on the source, the components of fitness vary considerably. Below are common components:
Cardiorespiratory endurance - typically measured by how long or fast a person can perform an activity and how this impacts measurements such as heart rate and oxygen consumption.
Muscular endurance - typically measured by how many repetitions of an exercise a person can perform. Common tests involve push-ups and sit ups.
Muscular strength - typically measured by how much weight can be moved in relation to repetitions. Exercises involving multiple joints and muscle groups such as squats or bench press are often used.
Muscular power - typically measured by how much force can be generated during a given activity. Advanced equipment used by biomechanists are often needed to measure muscular power.
Flexibility - typically measured by how far a muscle group can be stretched or joint can be moved. The most common tests involve the hamstrings and shoulders.
Balance - typically measured by how long a particular position can be held with or without some type of activity being performed. Simple tests such as standing on one leg can be used to assess balance. More advanced tests may involve standing on an unsteady object while trying to catch a ball.
Speed - typically measured by how quickly an individual can move from one point to another. The 40-yard dash is often used to assess speed.
Body composition - this is the amount of fat on the body versus other tissues such as muscle, bones and skin. Measured using a variety of tests and devices. Simple tests using mathematical equations or calipers are common and inexpensive. More advanced tests such as underwater weighing are far less common and much more expensive.
In many cases, endurance and strength are the components used to assess fitness. But utilizing the other components offer a more complete picture of overall fitness, along with health and athleticism.
Common Fitness Measurements
Fitness can be measured in a variety of ways. Below are common tests used in both clinical and athletic settings:
Cooper Run - This test measures cardiorespiratory endurance. In 12 minutes, run as far as possible. For most adults, running 2000 meters or more in this time is considered a 'good' to 'very good' level of fitness.
Push Up Test - This test measures muscular endurance. Men should perform this test using 'military style' (knees straight) while women should use the 'bent knee' position. Participants should perform as many pushups as possible while keeping proper form until exhaustion. An adult male performing 25-30 repetitions and an adult female performing 20-25 repetitions are considered 'above average.'
Sit & Reach Test - This test measures flexibility. Place a ruler on a step and sit with heels together and flat against the bottom step. Reach forward and measure the distance in front of or past the heels. Men reaching 2.5-6 inches past the heels or women reaching 4.5-7.5 inches past the heels are considered to have 'good' flexibility.
Bioelectrical Impedance - This test measures body composition. Using either a hand-held or at-home scale, a slight electrical signal is sent through either the hands or feet. Body fat percentage is estimated based on the speed in which the signal passes through body tissues. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) men with a body fat percentage of 14-17% and women with a body fat percentage of 21-24% are considered to be in the 'fitness' category.
Those seeking to improve components of fitness, or the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies, can take a variety of steps to improve the different type of fitness.
These types include cardiorespiratory endurance, which is how long or fast a person can perform an activity and how this impacts heart rate and oxygen consumption. Muscular strength, which is how much weight can be moved in relation to repetitions and muscular power, which is how much force can be generated during a given activity. There is also flexibility, how far a muscle group can be stretched or joint can be moved. Balance how long a particular position can be held with or without some type of activity being performed. Speed, how quickly an individual can move from one point to another. And body composition, the amount of fat on the body versus other tissues such as muscle, bones and skin.
All of these types of activities have their own measurements, which can include the Cooper run, which measures cardiorespiratory endurance, the push up test, which measures muscular endurance, the sit and reach test, which measures flexibility, and the bioelectrical impedance, which measures body composition.
An example of a test with average results would be a woman doing between 20-25 push-ups during a muscular endurance test. In all cases of activity, proper precautions should be taken to avoid injuries or other health complications. Consulting with a physician prior to starting an exercise program is recommended. Other professionals, such as personal trainers or exercise physiologists, should also be considered as resources to help create a program that is the best fit based on personal needs.
Instructor: John Koshuta
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