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Ester Marsh column: Fitness — what does it entail?

We look at the definition of fitness and it says “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” There are five main components of fitness:

  1. Cardio: walking, swimming, biking, running, dancing, etc.

  2. Strength: lifting weights where you challenge your body with a weight you can do no more than 15 repetitions

  3. Strength endurance: lifting weight or body weight where you can do more repetitions than 15-20

  4. Flexibility: true definition is “the quality of bending easily without breaking”!

  5. Body composition is used to describe the body in relationship to fat, muscles, bone and water

So to be physically fit and healthy, you need to incorporate all components into your workout and daily routines. Most people have the cardio part down — they walk, run, bike or swim. Strength endurance typically is part of it too; you can use your body to do crunches, lunges, squats and push-ups without having to use any weights or machines.

So, the following are typically lacking in many peoples’ workouts: strength, flexibility and body composition.

Strength can be done with “just” your body weight. A full push-up for example — you might only to be able to 1-5. If it goes past 15 reps, it becomes strength endurance. Pull-ups or chin-ups: if you can do more than 15 of them, good for you! Too many people are worried using weights or machines because they think their body will blow up like the Michelin man! You can ask any bodybuilder or weight lifter — it takes lots of time and heavy lifting to get the muscles to “pump up.” Especially the older you get, the more beneficial it is to do a workout where you use heavier weights and lower repetitions. If not, we all know the saying “when you don’t use it, you lose it.”

For flexibility, we have added two “stretch cages,”a floor exercise podium and two other flexibility machines over the years and people are actually using them. Still, there are people who don’t feel they need to stretch. It doesn’t make you “sweat” or burn tons of calories. But we know it’s one the five important components to fitness. Appropriate flexibility keeps your chances for injury low and a good range of motion in your joints. Studies now have shown that flexibility exercises and yoga help with chronic pains.

So, how about body composition? How do I maximize the proper proportions of muscles, fat, bones and water? You can’t change your bones — you can keep your bones strong by exercise and eating healthy. You can improve your muscles by working them out and you can decrease your fat by lessening your calories. You are what you eat. I joke with people that one of the best exercises to lose weight is the “push away” exercise. They ask “which one is that?” It’s the one where you push yourself away from the dinner table!

Even when you keep your calories lower than the usage, and you are losing weight, if it isn’t a well-balanced healthy diet, other health issues can arise. Most people know that if I eat 2,000 calories and burn 1,500, I will gain weight (even if it were healthy calories). If I eat 1,500 calories and burn 2,000, I lose weight (even with unhealthy calories) and if I eat 2,000 calories and burn 2,000 calories, I stay the same. By eating healthier, your heart arteries and total body will thank you. So, if you are already exercising, see if your exercise regimen includes all five fitness components. If you are not exercising, start with one first and start adding a new component every 2-4 weeks. You will be amazed how much better you will feel, not only your body but also mind and spirit.

Ester H. Marsh iis Associate Executive Director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA

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