The smart guide to shaping up.
What exactly does 'fit' mean?
Different authorities have differing opinions on what makes someone 'fit'. The bottom line is this: if you're physically fit, you can do your chosen form of exercise without ending up completely exhausted. To do this you need: strength, endurance, speed, flexibility, and so on (see our glossary at the bottom for more details). To be good at a particular sport (also called motor fitness), you might also need quick reaction times, agility, balance, co-ordination, and power.
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Fit me up, then!
If you've decided to get fit, don't keep putting it off: procrastination is deadly. Then again, a little thought is needed first, rather than going at it hell for leather. People who go straight in without any knowledge or the right gear can earn some serious chafing and blisters, making them more likely to give up.
Most trainers suggest that you should start gradually and build up from there. If you're completely unfit or have had any illness or ongoing health problem, consult your doctor before starting an exercise regime. Exercise can improve many health conditions, but check first, in case you have something that needs temporary rest. Make sure you're wearing the right clothing and have the correct safety equipment if required.
Pick a form of exercise that you can do frequently and will enjoy. You can also mix up the types of exercise that you do, for all round body conditioning. Remember that getting fit can take several weeks or months. It's easy to get frustrated or give up, but hang in there. You should see some obvious results within six to eight weeks.
A simple plan
The first phase: get your body used to frequent moderate levels of activity for the first four to six weeks. Your exercise should include stretching and a warm up, continuous aerobic activity, some toning exercises, and a warm down afterwards. To see benefits you need to do enough to increase your heart rate (to between 60 and 70% of its maximum) and make you breathe deeper.
Improvers: increase your levels of activity slightly every couple of weeks. Your body is adapting to the exercise, so you need to push it slightly harder to keep getting results. Increase the length of your exercise sessions, or the intensity of them.
Maintenance: after about six months, the average person has reached a level of fitness that they're happy with, and decides to stick with their current level of exercise to maintain their fitness. If you're training for sport or competitions, you will probably need to push yourself for longer.
Agility: being able to go through a series of fast and powerful movements.
Balance: being able to control the position of the body either when moving or when still.
Cardio-respiratory endurance: how effective your heart and lungs are at getting oxygen and fuel around the body for movement, and how well your body uses them.
Co-ordination: being able to integrate agility and balance, to move effectively.
Flexibility: the range of movements that you have in your joints.
Muscular (or strength) endurance: how well your muscle fibres can repeatedly do the same actions without tiring. Sometimes called stamina.
Power: your ability to make fast and controlled muscular contractions, in an explosive burst.
Speed: your ability to move a set distance in a certain time.
Strength: the maximum force that your muscles can produce by contracting against resistance. Someone who is very strong may appear fit, but could have very little stamina or flexibility.
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