When we set out to define our fitness goals, we usually look to a few words and phrases to conjure up what it is we want to achieve:
"I'd like to lower my blood pressure."
"I'd like to be able to run around after my kids/dog without getting winded."
“I’d like to look good at the beach/at the pool/in the boudoir.”
The definition of fitness can seem to vary greatly from person to person, depending on what your overall fitness goals are (esthetic, functional, longevity, etc.). As it turns out, exercise scientists have identified four primary and seven secondary components of physical fitness upon which we should focus our training for optimal health.
Scientifically speaking, cardiorespiratory capacity refers to the body's ability to take in oxygen, deliver it to the cells, and create energy for physical activity. At a more basic level, this component refers to heart health. Improved cardiorespiratory capacity can contribute to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, improved endurance, and more efficient cardiac output.
The benefits to healthy muscles include improved strength, better posture and improved joint health. And, this just in: muscle burns calories. The more lean muscle mass you have on your body, the greater your metabolic rate.
Muscular capacity refers to three different aspects of muscular capability.
Improving the flexibility of the muscles around a joint may help to make that joint less susceptible to injuries. Gentle stretching after a walk, run, game, workout or any physical activity will get you on the road to better bendiness. Incorporating a yoga practice into your fitness routine is another great way to ramp up the flexibility.
Body composition refers to our proportion of lean body mass (muscle, bone, blood, organs, and water) to fat body mass. A body fat percentage in a healthy range is important to contribute to a decreased risk of heart disease.
Balance is the ability to maintain a specific body position, either stationary or dynamic (moving). Regaining your footing when you find yourself slipping on an icy sidewalk is a very practical application of balance.
Coordination is the ability to use all of your body parts together to produce smooth and fluid motion. If you're hesitant to join a fitness class because you've got "two left feet," try it anyway and stick with it; it'll take some time for your body to learn coordination, but soon enough you'll have greater control over which way your limbs move.
Agility refers to the ability to change direction quickly. Athletes use agility all the time, but even in everyday life, the ability to quickly change directions without injury is essential. Have you ever thrown your back out when you quickly bent down to pick something up?
Reaction time refers to the time required to respond to a specific stimulus. Training yourself to have greater reaction time means that your brain will learn to send signals to your body more quickly.
Speed is the ability to move the body rapidly in any direction. Speed is also a crucial ingredient in coordination, agility and reaction time. Try a few workouts that require you to move speedily and you'll be checking off many of the components of fitness.
Power is the product of strength and speed. Athletes require power to get an edge on their opponents in a game, but everyday people like us can use power to our advantage too. A powerful training program, say, short-distance sprints or uphill cycling , are amazing ways to whip your heart and muscles into powerful shape.
Mental capability is the ability to concentrate during exercise to improve training effects. These are the "brain gym" benefits to exercise; challenging your brain to coordinate and move your body safely through ranges of motion as you exercise will keep you mentally sharper.
For well-rounded wellness, put your heart, lungs, muscles, bones and brains into it, and train all of the fitness components equally. In addition to these important fitness components, you’ll also cash in on some of the sweet side-effects of exercise: improved mood, better quality sleep and, yes, looking better in a bikini.