Fitness means being able to
perform physical activity. It also means having the energy and strength to feel
as good as possible. Getting more fit, even a little bit, can improve your
You don't have to be an athlete to be fit. A brisk half-hour walk every
day can help you reach a good level of fitness. And if this is hard for you, you can work
toward a level of fitness that helps you feel better and have more
you feel better and have more energy for work and leisure time. You'll feel
more able to do things like playing with your kids, gardening, dancing, or
biking. Children and teens who are fit may have more energy and better focus at
When you stay active and fit, you burn more calories,
even when you're at rest. Being fit lets you do more physical activity. And it
lets you exercise harder without as much work. It can also help you manage
Improving your fitness is good for
your heart, lungs, bones, muscles, and joints. And it lowers your risk for falls, heart attack,
high blood pressure, and some cancers. If
you already have one or more of these problems, getting more fit may help you
control other health problems and make you feel better.
Being more fit also can help you to sleep better,
stress better, and keep your mind sharp.
Experts say your goal should be one, or a combination, of
Children need more activity. Encourage your child (age 6 to 17) to do
moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.
Here's an easy way to tell if your exercise is moderate: If you can't talk while you're doing the activity, you're working too hard. You're at a moderate level of activity if you can talk but not sing during the activity.
The activities you choose depend on which kind of fitness you want to
improve. There are three different kinds of fitness:
Moderate physical activity is safe for most people. But it's always a
good idea to
talk to your doctor before becoming more active, especially if you
haven't been very active or have health problems.
If you're ready
to add more physical activity to your life, here are some tips to get you
One Woman's Story:
"I knew I needed to do something. I felt
like all my muscles were starting to atrophy. Now I feel like I'm so much more
toned. I'm not buff, but I'm toned. I can definitely feel the
Read more about Kris and how she has worked physical activity into her life.
Learning about fitness:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
No matter what your
size or shape, being active:
Fitness benefits everyone. Learn about fitness in children and teens, in older adults, and during pregnancy.
The more active you are, the better your heart
works. You're less likely to get many of the diseases that can shorten your
If you already have any of these problems,
staying active may help you to have better control over them, feel better, and
Being fit includes keeping your
muscles, bones, and joints as active and healthy as possible. You can:
Being more active burns calories.
That can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. Getting regular exercise:
To find out how many calories
you burn during different activities, use this
Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn?
One Man's Story:
"My doctor said, 'It's about time you
lose weight.' That's when I got my bike."—Bob
Read more about Bob and how he became more active.
The best thing about
being active and fit is a better quality of
life. You're able to do things you
enjoy for longer periods of time, like playing with
children, gardening, dancing, or walking.
Being active means allowing your body to "practice" breathing,
using your muscles, and stretching. The more practice your body gets, the better it
It's important to be active in three areas: aerobic activity, muscle strength, and stretching.
Aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs work harder and builds up
your endurance. It gets more oxygen to your muscles, which allows
your muscles to work longer. Aerobic activities include walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
To get and stay
healthy, experts say to do either of these:2
You can choose to do one or both types of
activity. And it's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes
or more throughout your day and week. Do what works best for you. For
example, you could do moderate activity for 45 minutes every other day. Or you could do 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a
Moderate activity causes your heart and lungs to work harder. Here's an easy way to
know if you're working hard enough to get the health benefits of
Another way to see how hard you exercise is
to find your
target heart rate. As a guideline, use the
Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate? and learn to take your pulse.
Building stronger muscles is an important part of overall health. When your muscles are
strong, you can carry heavy grocery bags more easily, pick up children without
feeling as much strain, or do more downhill ski runs before you
get too tired and have to stop.
Making your muscles stronger includes:
Experts advise people to do exercises to strengthen muscles at least 2 times a week. Be sure to work the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
Examples of exercises that strengthen muscles include lifting weights and resistance training.
Flexibility means being able to move your
joints and muscles through their full range of motion.
As you become more flexible, you will find it easier to reach
things on high shelves, to look under a bed, or perhaps to tie your shoes. You
will also have a better sense of balance and coordination.
To stay flexible,
stretch all your major groups of muscles. These
include the muscles of your arms, your back,
your hips, the front and back of your
thighs, and your calves.
you get started with flexibility and stretching, begin slowly, and increase your
efforts bit by bit. You can measure your progress with
flexibility by noticing how much farther you can do each stretch. Can you
stretch farther each day than you
could when you started? If so, your flexibility is getting
Do your stretching and
flexibility exercises in addition to your aerobic and strength-building
you increase your activity, take a look
at where you are now. Ask yourself these questions:
If you need to make some lifestyle changes to become more
active, you'll have more success if you first change the way you think about
Making any kind of change in the way you live your daily life
is like being on a path. The path leads to success. Here are steps you can use to change a habit by setting goals:
"My mantra is 'Find a way to exercise.'
It has made all the difference in my life."—John
Read more about John and how he became more active.
Most people don't think about being active or inactive
as a habit. But it is. And habits are affected by many things, including our work
schedule, our home life, and our social life. When something becomes a habit,
we don't think about it much—we just do it, like brushing our
The key to staying active is to make fitness a habit—something that you just do.
Experts say it takes about 3 months of repetition to form
a habit. For some people, even 3 months isn't enough. So start small, and keep
doing an activity until you no longer think about it as something "extra" that you have
When you slip up, don't get mad at yourself or feel guilty. Figure out
what happened and how to keep it from happening again. Get right back into your
physical activity routine, and don't look back.
Many of the
good things about being active, such as having
more energy and being in a better mood, happen
soon after you become more active. But some of the most important health
benefits have to do with being active over many years. If you stop being
active, you lose the fitness you achieved. Being consistent makes the most
sense for your health.
To help make physical activity a long-term
When you have decided that you want to
get fit, you will want to plan a
physical activity routine. Although most people think of
classes and specific activities (such as jogging or tennis) as the way to
fitness, there are many ways you can work physical activity into your
realized that I had put myself on the back burner for too long and it was time
for me to make time for myself, even if it was just a few minutes a day. I wrote myself a note and taped it to my bathroom mirror. It said, 'I
will take a 10-minute walk during my morning coffee break every day this week.' " —Shellie
Read more about Shellie and how she became more active.
Fitness classes or groups
provide a consistent approach to an activity. Local gyms, schools, and churches
may sponsor a regular fitness group. Teams also provide a consistent approach
to fitness but are more competitive. Many communities have physical activity
programs to help adults and children get fit. They often are found within
social agencies and schools.
Structured fitness has the advantage
Many people find an activity
they enjoy, and then they create their own fitness
program. Self-directed fitness gives you:
For this to be effective, you must set up a regular
schedule and stay with it.
You can use "everyday"
activities for fitness, as long as you do them regularly. This includes:
normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a
setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.
What are the things that might cause a
setback for you? If you have tried to make changes in your activity level
before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.
By thinking about these
barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with
them if they happen.
Here's one person's list of barriers to taking a brisk
30-minute walk every day, along with some possible solutions:
"I might be too busy."
"I might get bored."
"It might rain."
personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your barriers and backup plans.
It's never too
late to start getting active. You can benefit from physical activity even if you think of yourself
as "elderly" or you already have conditions such as arthritis or heart
disease. Being more active will help you feel better and may even
help you live longer.
If you haven't been
active for a long time, you may have no idea where to start. The important
thing is to take that first step—and make that first step a small one.
If you're an older adult and are starting activity, be sure to:
Physical activity is
good for your health, but you can hurt yourself if you don't do it
right. Always keep safety in mind.
Watch out for these injuries and
illnesses as you exercise:
The Department of Health and Human Services is the United States government's main agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services.
On this National Health Information website you will find a link to "Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults." This guide provides the basic information in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. And it gives examples of physical activity to help you get started.
On this American College of Sports Medicine website you will find a link to the "Public Action Guide," a tool for using exercise to help prevent or manage many health problems. The goal of Exercise Is Medicine is to make physical activity and exercise a standard part of disease prevention
and treatment in the United States.
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on
physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your
nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information
about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a
nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and
provide information and support.
This website has information about physical activity
for all ages, including expert guidelines, overcoming barriers to getting and
staying active, health benefits, and more.
HealthierUS.gov provides information on physical
activity, diet, disease prevention, and making healthy choices.
Shape Up America! is a national coalition of industry
and medical experts in nutrition and fitness. Its goals are to make Americans
more aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and to provide
information about how to lose weight and stay fit. The organization has
published several booklets on weight loss and diet, which can be ordered from
the Web site.
CitationsCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (2004).
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http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.Other Works ConsultedAinsworth BE, et al. (2011). Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide. Columbia, SC: Prevention Research Center, Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. Available online: http://prevention.sph.sc.edu/tools/compendium.htm. American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American
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November 12, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Heather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
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