Achieving a healthy level of fitness, particularly as an adult, is essential for reducing the risks of numerous diseases and prolonging lifespan. Fitness is a very general term, but it usually infers a healthy weight, nutritious diet, and regular exercise. However, for many Americans, a reasonable level of fitness remains elusive. More than 80 million U.S. adults are obese, nutritional deficiencies are commonplace, and less than 5% of Americans exercise for more than 30 minutes a day. The good news is that increasing your fitness level is fairly straightforward and inexpensive, but it takes some effort and lifestyle changes.
Achieving Fitness with Lifestyle Changes
1Maintain a healthy weight. In order to understand if your current weight is considered relatively healthy, you need to calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI is a useful measure to determine if you're overweight or obese. To obtain your BMI number, divide your weight (converted to kilograms) by your height (converted to meters). Higher numbers represent greater risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and other health problems. Although genetics and hormonal changes can play significant roles, a healthy weight is largely achieved by eating well and exercising regularly (see below).
- BMI measurements that are considered healthy and relatively fit range from 18.5 to 24.9; a person with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, whereas someone who scores 30 and above is considered obese.
- A BMI measurement has some limits: it tends to overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have muscular builds. BMI also underestimates body fat in the elderly and others who have lost muscle.
2Eat better. The standard American diet is too high in calories, harmful fats, refined carbohydrates, and sodium. If that sounds like you, then you need to make some dietary changes, which will likely contribute to weight loss and help increase your fitness levels. Eating some saturated (animal-based) fat is necessary because your body needs cholesterol, but focus more on plan-based monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Start reading labels on food and avoid trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and products high in sodium. Cut down on soda pop and energy drinks, and consume more purified water. Add more fresh produce to your diet (fruits and veggies) and consider eating them raw more often. Switch out sugary baked goods for whole grain breads and cereals.
- Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds, corn oil and soybeans; whereas rich sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados, canola, olive and peanut oils.
- The key to losing or maintaining a healthy weight is reducing your daily calories — no more than 2,500 if you're a larger guy and no more than 2,000 if you are a smaller female — while adding fat-burning cardiovascular exercises on a regular basis.
3Exercise more. Exercise is often synonymous with fitness and so it should be because being able to perform certain physical activities is often a direct indicator of your overall fitness level. However, over 80% of American adults do not meet the government guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and greater than 80% of teens do not do enough physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth. Regular cardiovascular exercise (such as walking briskly) for 30-60 minutes daily not only promotes weight loss from burning more calories, but it causes more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to your tissues. It also forces your heart and lungs to work more efficiently, which is an essential part of fitness.
- Start with walking around your neighborhood in the evenings (if its safe), then transition to more difficult terrain with some hills.
- In addition to taking walks, other good cardiovascular exercises to consider include swimming, cycling, and running on a treadmill.
- Thirty minutes of daily exercise is enough to positively impact health and fitness. An hour is even better, but much more time beyond an hour isn't significantly more beneficial.
- Avoid vigorous exercise to start with, especially if you have a heart condition. Ease into your new exercise routine and add time or difficulty to it slowly over the course of many weeks.
4Get quality sleep. In order to get fit, you need energy to be physical. Along with a healthy diet (mentioned above), getting adequate quality sleep is essential for feeling energetic and motivated to get fit. Lack of quality (not deep enough sleep) and quantity (not long enough sleep) can create chronic fatigue and lead to weight gain, muscle atrophy, depression and increase the risk of numerous diseases. As a general rule, most healthy adults need an average of eight hours of sleep per night in order to recuperate and feel well rested, so plan your schedule accordingly. You may be among the fortunate few who truly needs only six hours of sleep per day; on the other hand, you may also need 10 hours of sleep to be healthy. The amount of sleep we need seems to be largely genetically determined.
- Avoid consuming stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol) at least eight hours before going to bed. Caffeine increases brain activity and makes it difficult to fall asleep. Alcohol and nicotine prevent you from sleeping deeply.
- Make your bedroom as quiet, dark and as comfortable as you can in order to promote the best quality and quantity of sleep.
5Stop bad habits. Stopping bad habits is another important component for fitness. Common bad habits include smoking and drinking too much alcohol. Smoking tobacco is particularly harmful because it damages nearly every organ in your body and causes numerous diseases, including all sorts of cardiovascular related problems and cancers. Similarly, ethanol (the type of alcohol commonly consumed) is a known human carcinogen that dramatically increases the risk of all sorts of cancers. It's also associated with nutritional deficiencies, cognitive decline (dementia) and depression. As such, either stop drinking alcohol or limit yourself to no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
- Use nicotine patches or gum to help wean yourself off cigarettes. Stopping "cold turkey" often creates too many side effects (cravings, depression, headaches, weight gain) for most people to cope with.
- Alcohol is known to "thin" the blood, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, but the net effect of ethanol on health and fitness is clearly negative.
- A significant proportion of people who smoke heavily also regularly consume alcohol — so these bad habits often go "hand-in-hand."
Getting Professional Help with Your Fitness Goals
1Schedule a physical exam with your doctor. To better objectively gauge your fitness level, make an appointment with your family doctor for a physical exam and blood test. Your doctor may be able to measure your BMI for you, but certainly they will check your vitals, such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Low resting breathing and heart rates are signs of good fitness, whereas low blood pressure (less than 130 / 80) is a sign of overall good cardiovascular health. The blood test should measure your cholesterol profile and hemoglobin levels (the iron-based compound that carries oxygen in your blood). People with high fitness levels tend to have high levels of hemoglobin.
- Normal total blood cholesterol levels should be less than 200 mg/dL; LDL cholesterol (the "bad" one) should be less than 100 mg/dL, whereas HDL levels (the "good" one) should be above 60 mg/dL for optimal protection against cardiovascular disease.
- Normal hemoglobin levels for adults vary, but in general are 13.8 to 17.2 grams per deciliter (g/dL) for men and 12.1 to 15.1 g/dL for women.
2See a physical therapist or personal trainer. If you don't have an athletic background or would just like to get a more structured exercise regimen, then get a referral to a physical therapist or talk to a personal trainer at your local gym. Physical therapists and personal trainers can show you specific exercises tailored to either losing weight, gaining strength and/or increasing cardiovascular endurance. These health professionals are also trained to assess fitness levels, which is based on four key areas: aerobic fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition (BMI). It's always best to measure your fitness results against yourself over time and not to compare them to friends or other people at the gym. You want to see a steady improvement over the course of many weeks.
- Walking specified distances in under certain times is a good measure of aerobic fitness.
- Being able to do a certain number of pushups within a specific time frame is a good measure of muscular strength and endurance.
- The "sit and reach" test is great for measuring flexibility, whereas the BMI is a good indicator for body composition (fat).
3Consult with a chiropractor or osteopath. Chiropractors and osteopaths are musculoskeletal specialists who focus on establishing normal motion and function within the spine and peripheral joints of the limbs. If you are serious about getting fit by being more active, then making sure that your musculoskeletal system is up to the task is a good idea. If your chiropractor or osteopath finds a joint that's slightly misaligned and/or dysfunctional, they can perform a manual joint manipulation (also called an adjustment) in order to realign or "unjam" the joint. These health professionals also provide therapy for soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) to ensure your body is moving in a normal fashion.
- Although a single manual adjustment of a dysfunctional can sometimes restore it to normality, more than likely it will take three to five treatments to notice significant results.
- Many chiropractors also take an interest in your walking and running biomechanics, so they can suggest appropriate footwear or prescribe shoe orthotics (custom made insoles) if needed.
- Furthermore, chiropractors and osteopaths are often good sources of information on nutrition, supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs), and strengthening and rehabilitation exercises — all of which can help enhance your fitness levels.
Am 20 and yet look like a school-aged girl. What are some ways for me to put on weight and improve my body shape?Organize a 4 day per week fitness plan. Really focus on building muscle. Day 1 you could do abs, day 2 legs, day 3 arms, day 4 cardio. Drink a protein shake during each workout, and make sure you eat a lot of protein.
- Having good social relationships is also helpful for a healthy mind and body — it buffers stressors and can have a strong protective effect against a variety of diseases and conditions.
- If your BMI number is higher than 25, then ask you doctor about safe weight loss ideas and strategies so you can lower your risk of cardiovascular problems.
- Try exercising with your friends. It is more enjoyable if you do it together.
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://www.fitness.gov/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/
- ↑ https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm
- ↑ http://extension.illinois.edu/diabetes2/subsection.cfm?SubSectionID=46
- ↑ http://www.fitness.gov/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/
- ↑ http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.aspx
- ↑ http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/
- ↑ http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet
- ↑ http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12pg6-7.html
- ↑ https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003645.htm
- ↑ http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/fitness/art-20046433
- ↑ http://www.acatoday.org/level2_css.cfm?T1ID=13&T2ID=68