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What is Fitness?

Fitness can be described as a condition that helps us look, feel and do our best. That means being able to rely on your body to perform when you need it to, whether it be doing daily household tasks, enjoying a brisk walk on a beautiful fall day, running a race or bench pressing your own body weight. Only you can set your fitness goals. Your present fitness level, age, health, skills, interest and convenience are among the factors you should consider. If you start out slowly, you may find that a simple success spurs you on to take it to the next level.

The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports outlines five basic components to physical fitness:

  • Heart and lung endurance – The ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and to remove wastes throughout sustained periods of time. Long runs and swims are among the methods employed in measuring this component.
  • Muscular strength – The ability of a muscle to exert force for a brief period of time. Upper-body strength, for example, can be measured by various weight-lifting exercises.
  • Muscular endurance – The ability of a muscle, or a group of muscles, to sustain repeated contractions or to continue applying force against a fixed object. Push-ups are often used to test endurance of arm and shoulder muscles.
  • Flexibility – The ability to move joints and use muscles through their full range of motion. The sit-and-reach test is a good measure of flexibility of the lower back and backs of the upper legs.
  • Body composition – Often considered a component of fitness. It refers to the makeup of the body in terms of lean mass (muscle, bone, vital tissue and organs) and fat mass. A particular ratio of fat to lean mass is an indication of fitness, and the right types of exercise will help you decrease body fat and increase or maintain muscle mass.

Your exercise program should include something to improve each of these five basic fitness components. Each workout should begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. A warm-up generally consists of five to 10 minutes of low intensity movements, such as walking, slow jogging, knee lifts, arm circles or trunk rotations. A cool-down consists of a minimum of five to 10 minutes of slow walking, low-level exercise, combined with stretching. As a general rule, you should try to get moderate intensity exercise, like brisk walking, most days of the week.

Importance of Warm-Ups

You may be psyched to pump iron and burn calories, but you could do more damage than good if you jump right into it without taking the time to bring your body up to speed.

Some people think a warm-up is just a bit of bending and stretching before you work out. But there's more to warming up than that. A warm-up should include a progressive aerobic activity that uses the muscles you will be exercising.

Why warm up? You need to take five to 10 minutes to raise the core temperature of your body and your muscles. This prepares the muscles and joints for more intense activity. According to the American Council on Exercise, warm-ups also help to:

  • Improve the elasticity of your muscles
  • Promote circulation
  • Give you better muscle control
  • Reduce muscle fatigue

A general warm-up can be any light, continuous movements using the large muscle groups. This might be marching or jogging in place. Your warm-up should produce a little sweat, but not leave you feeling fatigued. Some people opt to include flexibility or stretching exercises after they have finished the aerobic activity.

When pressed for time, the warm-up period is usually the first thing to go. Don't let this happen to you. Warming up is as important as the exercise itself. It makes your workout more efficient, more productive and most importantly, safer. Don't forget to take a few minutes to cool down as well, after your exercise.


  • Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer, myOptumHealth
  • American Council on Exercise. Warm up to work out. Accessed: 12/29/2011
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? Accessed: 12/29/2011
  • American College of Sports Medicine. Strength, power and the baby boomer Accessed: 12/29/2011

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