Fitness: What Does It Really Mean?
By Don Otis –
I just read an article in National Geographic about solo-climbing some of the great walls in Yosemite, namely El Capitan. What used to take days or even weeks is now done in a matter of hours, sometimes without a rope. You read that right. One mistake, one missed foothold, fear, fatigue and you are dead! This takes extreme conditioning and plenty of mental acuity. I don’t recommend it.
For most of us, fitness is an elusive dream that we never manage to achieve. If you look at health, fitness or fashion magazines you can feel insecure. Few of us will ever be completely satisfied by how we look or how fit we are. That’s why we’re talking about how to define fitness in this column. In general terms, fitness involves our ability to fulfill a particular physical task or role. This definition will change based on the task. For example, if you want to run a marathon the task is much greater than if you want to walk up a flight of stairs. For an older person, getting up a flight of stairs or walking around the block may be a big challenge.
Physical fitness is most often defined as the capacity to carry out the day’s activities, pursue recreational activities, and have the physical capability to handle emergency situations. This raises more questions than it provides answers. For example, can a person be overweight and be fit at the same time? Yes, in some cases. Obesity is another matter. It hampers our ability to perform the basic functions of everyday life. These also vary depending on whether you are a ditch digger or sit at your desk all day like I do.
The majority of us just want to enjoy life, do the things we take pleasure in, and not huff and puff our way around a park or up a trail. Others of us are goal-oriented and feel the need to achieve through physically challenging experiences. As a general rule, you should engage in some activity five days a week for twenty to thirty minutes that gets your heart rate up to 70 percent of more of your maximum. If you are faithful and consistent, you can call yourself fit.
The elevated heart rate is necessary for putting an adequate workload on your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs). This means that going to the gym a couple of times a week or walking lazily around the block is often not enough. Your fitness level is directly proportionate to how hard you work. One’s fitness level and effort at 60 is clearly not the same for someone in their 20s so this is why checking your heart rate and maintaining it during exercise is important.
Finally, your level of fitness is not just exercise-related. It involves far more, such as how you’re doing emotionally and spiritually, as well as what you consume. Imagine putting sugar water in your gas tank and expecting your car to operate effectively. It won’t.
In order to be totally fit, we must consider exercise as well as what we put into our minds (such as television and movies) and what we put into our bodies.