Karl Henry: Fitness is the ability to live healthier for longer
Getting in shape has many unexpected benefits, says our fitness expert
The fitter you are, the healthier you will be. The more positive you will feel. The better you will sleep. The slower you will age. The better you will deal with and manage stress. The lower your risk will be for health and medical issues. It has nothing to do with your weight, it’s not fat shaming or picking on anyone of any weight. It’s simply saying that if you can improve your fitness levels, you can improve many other things in your life, that’s what health, lifelong health is all about. But what does fit actually mean? Is it the ability to deadlift your body weight? The ability to run a sub six-minute mile? Or the ability to touch your toes? It’s somewhat of a trick question, they are all areas of fitness, they will all improve your life.
Fitness though, in my opinion, is the ability to live healthier for longer. By getting fitter, you improve your quality of life and the quality of life for those that you interact with. So, today, I thought that I would take a look at some of the different elements of fitness and what you can do to improve them, as well as how you can test them. One of the key components in getting fitter is the ability to measure something. By having the ability to track your progress, you will find that you are more motivated and stay fitter for longer. Regular readers of my column will know that I am passionate about measuring as a tool to stay healthier. Let’s take a look at just some of the areas of fitness that there are:
Being strong has never been more popular. As we age, we become weaker and lose our lean muscle tissue, this especially becomes a problem in your later life as it puts you at risk of trips and falls as well as bone degeneration issues too. Being strong can mean being able to walk home with your shopping, being able to lift your own body weight or being able to push a force or a weight. They are all fantastic, and to improve your strength, you need to do resistance training using weights or your own body weight. In terms of measuring your strength, you can do a one rep test, use a handgrip dynamometer or use your observations in day-to-day life, for example, do you get tired after holding a shopping bag while walking home?
Any resistance exercise using any form of weight will improve your strength, regardless of weight — it doesn’t have to be heavy. This will also help to improve your posture too as your upper body muscles become stronger, pulling your shoulders back and fighting the ageing process.
Don’t fear strength training, embrace it as it is so good for the body and so beneficial for your health. Every aspect of your body and your health will improve with this fitness.
Your cardiovascular fitness is your lung function and your heart rate. As you become fitter, your heart becomes stronger and more efficient, pumping blood around the body better. In terms of exercise, it is anything that gets your heart rate up, such as walking, cycling, running, surfing or pretty much anything. For those who are very unfit, it can be walking up the stairs. Similar to strength training, your quality of life is directly linked to your cardiovascular health. It’s that important! You can measure it by doing a one-mile walk test, aiming to complete the mile in under 15 minutes, or you can take your resting heart rate, by counting your pulse for 15 seconds and multiplying by four. Ideally you should be aiming to get this between 60-70. For most people, the lower your resting heart rate is, the fitter you are.
To improve this, you obviously need to move more. But remember, you need to get out of breath for it to be considered exercise. Strolling or taking it easy when moving simply won’t deliver the benefits for your body or your mind, you need to make it challenging. As you get fitter, you need to keep increasing the intensity to get the benefits, which avoids the plateau effect.
This is the element of fitness that most people forget about, but it’s crucial to your health. Your body generally becomes stiffer as you get older, it tightens up and the risk of pulling or tearing a muscle increases, putting you out of action. It is a crucial aspect of health that you should be focusing on. Ideally, you should be doing one stretching based session each week or make it part of your exercise session. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi and just general stretching are all perfect for this and will make such a big difference to your health. This is especially true for your lower back.
People with back problems generally have very tight hamstrings, the muscles at the back of the leg, which places more pressure on the lower back. By loosening these up, you will make a huge difference to your back and all-round health too. If the idea of a class doesn’t interest you, then why not take a look on YouTube where you will find thousands of videos with exercises that you can follow with ease. There are many ways to measure your flexibility, such as a sit and reach test, but a simple one to do at home is simply to stand tall, stretch your arms in the air, and then bend forward to see if you can touch your toes, keeping the hands on your legs, see at what point you can get to and then reassess every few weeks to check your progress.