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Physical Fitness

Exercise and Physical Fitness

Illustration of a man exercising leg muscles

There are 1,440 minutes in every day. Schedule 30 of them for physical activity!

Regular exercise is a critical part of staying healthy. People who are active live longer and feel better. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. It can delay or prevent diabetes, some cancers and heart problems.

Most adults need at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days per week. Examples include walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming for recreation or bicycling. Stretching and weight training can also strengthen your body and improve your fitness level.

The key is to find the right exercise for you. If it is fun, you are more likely to stay motivated. You may want to walk with a friend, join a class or plan a group bike ride. If you’ve been inactive for awhile, use a sensible approach and start out slowly.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Exercise Habit

How much exercise do I need?

Talk to your doctor about how much exercise is right for you. A good goal for many people is to work up to exercising 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Remember, though, that exercise has so many health benefits that any amount is better than none.

How do I get started?

Sneak exercise into your day

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Go for a walk during your coffee break or lunch.
  • Walk all or part of the way to work.
  • Do housework at a fast pace.
  • Rake leaves or do other yard work.

Start by talking with your family doctor. This is especially important if you haven’t been active, if you have any health problems or if you’re pregnant or elderly.

Start out slowly. If you’ve been inactive for years, you can’t run a marathon after only 2 weeks of training! Begin with a 10-minute period of light exercise or a brisk walk every day and gradually increase how hard you exercise and for how long.

How do I stick with it?

Here are some tips that will help you start and stick with an exercise program:

  • Choose something you like to do. Make sure it suits you physically, too. For instance, swimming is easier on arthritic joints.
  • Get a partner. Exercising with a friend or relative can make it more fun.
  • Vary your routine. You may be less likely to get bored or injured if you change your exercise routine. Walk one day. Bicycle the next. Consider activities like dancing and racquet sports, and even chores like vacuuming or mowing the lawn.
  • Choose a comfortable time of day. Don’t work out too soon after eating or when it’s too hot or cold outside. Wait until later in the day if you’re too stiff in the morning.
  • Don’t get discouraged. It can take weeks or months before you notice some of the changes from exercise, such as weight loss.
  • Forget “no pain, no gain.” While a little soreness is normal after you first start exercising, pain isn’t. Take a break if you hurt or if you are injured.
  • Make exercise fun. Read, listen to music or watch TV while riding a stationary bicycle, for example. Find fun things to do, like taking a walk through the zoo. Go dancing. Learn how to play a sport you enjoy, such as tennis.

Making exercise a habit

  • Stick to a regular time every day.
  • Sign a contract committing yourself to exercise.
  • Put “exercise appointments” on your calendar.
  • Keep a daily log or diary of your exercise activities.
  • Check your progress. Can you walk a certain distance faster now than when you began exercising? Or is your heart rate slower now?
  • Ask your doctor to write a prescription for your exercise program, such as what type of exercise to do, how often to exercise and for how long.
  • Think about joining a health club. The cost gives some people an incentive to exercise regularly.

How can I prevent injuries?

Start every workout with a warm-up. This will make your muscles and joints more flexible. Spend 5 to 10 minutes doing some light calisthenics and stretching exercises, and perhaps brisk walking. Do the same thing when you’re done working out until your heart rate returns to normal.

Pay attention to your body. Stop exercising if you feel very out of breath, dizzy, faint, nauseous or have pain.

Benefits of regular exercise

  • Reduces your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes and obesity
  • Keeps joints, tendons and ligaments flexible, which makes it easier to move around
  • Reduces some of the effects of aging
  • Contributes to your mental well-being and helps treat depression
  • Helps relieve stress and anxiety
  • Increases your energy and endurance
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Helps you maintain a normal weight by increasing your metabolism (the rate you burn calories)

What is a target heart rate?

Target Heart Rate
Measuring your heart rate (beats per minute) can tell you how hard your heart is working. You can check your heart rate by counting your pulse for 15 seconds and multiplying the beats by 4.

The chart to the right shows the target heart rates for people of different ages. When you’re just beginning an exercise program, shoot for the lower target heart rate (60%). As your fitness improves, you can exercise harder to get your heart rate closer to the top number (85%).

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise is the type that moves large muscle groups and causes you to breathe more deeply and your heart to work harder to pump blood. It’s also called cardiovascular exercise. It improves the health of your heart and lungs.

Examples include walking, jogging, running, aerobic dance, bicycling, rowing, swimming and cross-country skiing.

What is weight-bearing exercise?

The term weight-bearing is used to describe exercises that work against the force of gravity. Weight-bearing exercise is important for building strong bones. Having strong bones helps prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life.

Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, jogging, hiking, climbing stairs, dancing and weight training.

What about weight training?

Weight training, or strength training, builds strength and muscles. Calisthenics like push-ups are weight-training exercises too. Lifting weights is a weight-training exercise. If you have high blood pressure or other health problems, talk to your family doctor before beginning weight training.

What is the best exercise?

The best exercise is the one that you will do on a regular basis. Walking is considered one of the best choices because it’s easy, safe and inexpensive. Brisk walking can burn as many calories as running, but is less likely than running or jogging to cause injuries. Walking also doesn’t require any training or special equipment, except for good shoes.

Walking is an aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, so it is good for your heart and helps prevent osteoporosis.

Making a Commitment

You have taken the important first step on the path to physical fitness by seeking information. The next step is to decide that you are going to be physically fit. This pamphlet is designed to help you reach that decision and your goal.The decision to carry out a physical fitness program cannot be taken lightly. It requires a lifelong commitment of time and effort. Exercise must become one of those things that you do without question, like bathing and brushing your teeth. Unless you are convinced of the benefits of fitness and the risks of unfitness, you will not succeed.

Patience is essential. Don’t try to do too much too soon and don’t quit before you have a chance to experience the rewards of improved fitness. You can’t regain in a few days or weeks what you have lost in years of sedentary living, but you can get it back if you persevere. And the prize is worth the price.

In the following pages you will find the basic information you need to begin and maintain a personal physical fitness program. These guidelines are intended for the average healthy adult. It tells you what your goals should be and how often, how long and how hard you must exercise to achieve them. It also includes information that will make your workouts easier, safer and more satisfying. The rest is up to you.

CHECKING YOUR HEALTH If you’re under 35 and in good health, you don’t need to see a doctor before beginning an exercise program. But if you are over 35 and have been inactive for several years, you should consult your physician, who may or may not recommend a graded exercise test. Other conditions that indicate a need for medical clearance are:

  • High blood pressure,
  • Heart trouble
  • Family history of early stroke or heart attack deaths
  • Frequent dizzy spells
  • Extreme breathlessness after mild exertion
  • Arthritis or other bone problems
  • Severe muscular, ligament or tendon problems
  • Other known or suspected disease
  • If you are taking or considering cholesterol reducing drugs,

Vigorous exercise involves minimal health risks for persons in good health or those following a doctor’s advice. Far greater risks are present by habitual inactivity and obesity.


Physical fitness is to the human body what fine tuning is to an engine. It enables us to perform up to our potential. Fitness can be described as a condition that helps us look, feel and do our best. More specifically, it is: “The ability to perform daily tasks vigorously and alertly, with energy left over for enjoying leisure-time activities and meeting emergency demands. It is the ability to endure, to bear up, to withstand stress, to carry on in circumstances where an unfit person could not continue, and is a major basis for good health and well-being.”

Physical fitness involves the performance of the heart and lungs, and the muscles of the body. And, since what we do with our bodies also affects what we can do with our minds, fitness influences to some degree qualities such as mental alertness and emotional stability.

As you undertake your fitness program, it’s important to remember that fitness is an individual quality that varies from person to person. It is influenced by age, sex, heredity, personal habits, exercise and eating practices. You can’t do anything about the first three factors. However, it is within your power to change and improve the others where needed.


Physical fitness is most easily understood by examining its components, or “parts.” There is widespread agreement that these four components are basic.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance – the ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues, and to remove wastes, over 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. Pushups 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 is 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. An optimal 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.


How often, how long and how hard you exercise, and what kinds of exercises you do should be determined by what you are trying to accomplish. Your goals, your present fitness level, age, health, skills, interest and convenience are among the factors you should consider. For example, an athlete training for high-level competition would follow a different program than a person whose goals are good health and the ability to meet work and recreational needs.

Your exercise program should include something from each of the four basic fitness components described previously. Each workout should begin with a warmup and end with a cooldown. As a general rule, space your workouts throughout the week and avoid consecutive days of hard exercise.

Here are the amounts of activity necessary for the average, healthy person to maintain a minimum level of overall fitness. Included are some of the popular exercises for each category.

WARMUP – 5-10 minutes of exercises such as walking, slow jogging, knee lifts, arm circles or trunk rotations. Low intensity movements that stimulate movements to be used in the activity can also be included in the warmup.

MUSCULAR STRENGTH – a minimum of two 20-minute sessions per week that include exercises for all the major muscle groups. Lifting weights is the most effective way to increase strength.

MUSCULAR ENDURANCE – at least three 30-minute sessions each week that include exercises such as calisthenics, pushups, situps, pullups, and weight training for all the major muscle groups.

CARDIORESPIRATORY ENDURANCE – at least three 20-minute bouts of continuous aerobic (activity requiring oxygen) rhythmic exercise each week. Popular aerobic conditioning activities include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rope-jumping, rowing, cross-country skiing, and some continuous action games like racquetball and handball.

FLEXIBILITY – 10-12 minutes of daily stretching exercises performed slowly without a bouncing motion. This can be included after a warmup or during a cooldown.

COOL DOWN – a minimum of 5-10 minutes of slow walking, low-level exercise, combined with stretching.


The keys to selecting the right kinds of exercises for developing and maintaining each of the basic components of fitness are found in these principles:

Specificity – pick the right kind of activities to affect each component. Strength training results in specific strength changes. Also, train for the specific activity you’re interested in. For example, optimal swimming performance is best achieved when the muscles involved in swimming are trained for the movements required. It does not necessarily follow that a good runner is a good swimmer.

Overload – work hard enough, at levels that are vigorous and long enough to overload your body above its resting level, to bring about improvement.

Regularity – you can’t hoard physical fitness. At least three balanced workouts a week are necessary to maintain a desirable level of fitness.

Progression – increase the intensity, frequency and/or duration of activity over periods of time in order to improve.

Some activities can be used to fulfill more than one of your basic exercise requirements. For example, in addition to increasing cardiorespiratory endurance, running builds muscular endurance in the legs, and swimming develops the arm, shoulder and chest muscles. If you select the proper activities, it is possible to fit parts of your muscular endurance workout into your cardiorespiratory workout and save time.


Heart rate is widely accepted as a good method for measuring intensity during running, swimming, cycling and other aerobic activities. Exercise that doesn’t raise your heart rate to a certain level and keep it there for 20 minutes won’t contribute significantly to cardiovascular fitness.

The heart rate you should maintain is called your Target Heart Rate. There are several ways of arriving at this figure. One of the simplest is: Maximum Heart Rate (220 – age) X 70%. Thus, the target heart rate for a 40 year-old would be 126.

Some methods for figuring the target rate take individual differences into consideration. Here is one of them. 1. Subtract age from 220 to find Maximum Heart Rate.

2. Subtract resting heart rate (see below) from maximum heart rate to determine Heart Rate Reserve.

3. Take 70% of heart rate reserve to determine Heart Rate Raise.

4. Add heart rate raise to resting heart rate to find Target Rate.

Resting heart rate should be determined by taking your pulse after sitting quietly for five minutes. When checking heart rate during a workout, take your pulse within five seconds after interrupting exercise because it starts to go down once you stop moving. Count pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by six to get the per-minute rate.

CONTROLLING YOUR WEIGHTThe key to weight control is keeping energy intake (food) and energy output (physical activity) in balance. When you consume only as many calories as your body needs, your weight will usually remain constant. If you take in more calories than your body needs, you will put on excess fat. If you expend more energy than you take in you will burn excess fat.

Exercise plays an important role in weight control by increasing energy output, calling on stored calories for extra fuel. Recent studies show that not only does exercise increase metabolism during a workout, but it causes your metabolism to stay increased for a period of time after exercising, allowing you to burn more calories.

How much exercise is needed to make a difference in your weight depends on the amount and type of activity, and on how much you eat. Aerobic exercise burns body fat. A medium-sized adult would have to walk more than 30 miles to burn up 3,500 calories, the equivalent of one pound of fat. Although that may seem like a lot, you don’t have to walk the 30 miles all at once. Walking a mile a day for 30 days will achieve the same result, providing you don’t increase your food intake to negate the effects of walking

If you consume 100 calories a day more than your body needs, you will gain approximately 10 pounds in year. You could take that weight off, or keep it off, by doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. The combination of exercise and diet offers the most flexible and effective approach to weight control.

Since muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, and exercise develops muscle to a certain degree, your bathroom scale won’t necessarily tell you whether or not you are “fat.” Well muscled individuals, with relatively little body fat, invariably are “overweight” according to standard weight charts. If you are doing a regular program of strength training, your muscles will increase in weight, and possibly your overall weight will increase. Body composition is a better indicator of your condition than body weight.

Lack of physical activity causes muscles to get soft, and if food intake is not decreased, added body weight is almost always fat. Once-active people, who continue to eat as they always have after settling into sedentary lifestyles, tend to suffer from “creeping obesity.”


All exercise clothing should be loose-fitting to permit freedom of movement, and should make the wearer feel comfortable and self-assured.

As a general rule, you should wear lighter clothes than temperatures might indicate. Exercise generates great amounts of body heat. Light-colored clothing that reflects the sun’s rays is cooler in the summer, and dark clothes are warmer in winter. When the weather is very cold, it’s better to wear several layers of light clothing than one or two heavy layers. The extra layers help trap heat, and it’s easy to shed one of them if you become too warm.

In cold weather, and in hot, sunny weather, it’s a good idea to wear something on your head. Wool watch or ski caps are recommended for winter wear, and some form of tennis or sailor’s hat that provides shade and can be soaked in water is good for summer.

Never wear rubberized or plastic clothing. Such garments interfere with the evaporation of perspiration and can cause body temperature to rise to dangerous levels.

The most important item of equipment for the runner is a pair of sturdy, properly-fitting running shoes. Training shoes with heavy, cushioned soles and arch supports are preferable to flimsy sneakers and light racing flats.


The hour just before the evening meal is a popular time for exercise. The late afternoon workout provides a welcome change of pace at the end of the work day and helps dissolve the day’s worries and tensions.

Another popular time to work out is early morning, before the work day begins. Advocates of the early start say it makes them more alert and energetic on the job.

Among the factors you should consider in developing your workout schedule are personal preference, job and family responsibilities, availability of exercise facilities and weather. It’s important to schedule your workouts for a time when there is little chance that you will have to cancel or interrupt them because of other demands on your time.

You should not exercise strenuously during extreme hot, humid weather, or within two hours after eating. Heat and/or digestion both make heavy demands on the circulatory system, and in combination with exercise can be an overtaxing double load.

About… Fitness and Exercise

Fitness and Exercise Introduction

Today, there is a growing emphasis on looking good, feeling good and living longer. Increasingly, scientific evidence tells us that one of the keys to achieving these ideals is fitness and exercise. But if you spend your days at a sedentary job and pass your evenings as a “couch potato,” it may require some determination and commitment to make regular activity a part of your daily routine.
Equal Opportunity Benefits

Exercise is not just for Olympic hopefuls or supermodels. In fact, you’re never too unfit, too young or too old to get started. Regardless of your age, gender or role in life, you can benefit from regular physical activity. If you’re committed, exercise in combination with a sensible diet can help provide an overall sense of well-being and can even help prevent chronic illness, disability and premature death. Some of the benefits of increased activity are:
Improved Health

* increased efficiency of heart and lungs
* reduced cholesterol levels
* increased muscle strength
* reduced blood pressure
* reduced risk of major illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease
* weight loss

Improved Sense of Well-Being

* more energy
* less stress
* improved quality of sleep
* improved ability to cope with stress
* increased mental acuity

Improved Appearance

* weight loss
* toned muscles
* improved posture

Enhanced Social Life

* improved self-image
* increased opportunities to make new friends
* increased opportunities to share an activity with friends or family

Increased Stamina

* increased productivity
* increased physical capabilities
* less frequent injuries
* improved immunity to minor illnesses

Mind Over Immobility

Getting moving is a challenge because today physical activity is less a part of our daily lives. There are fewer jobs that require physical exertion. We’ve become a mechanically mobile society, relying on machines rather than muscle to get around. In addition, we’ve become a nation of observers with more people (including children) spending their leisure time pursuing just that – leisure. Consequently, statistics show that obesity and the problems that come with it (high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, etc.) are on the rise. But statistics also show that preventive medicine pays off, so don’t wait until your doctor gives you an ultimatum. Take the initiative to get active now.
The Fitness Formula

If you’re interested in improving your overall conditioning, health experts recommend that you should get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on all or most days of the week. Examples of moderate activity include brisk walking, cycling, swimming or doing home repairs or yard work. If you can’t get in 30 minutes all at once, aim for shorter bouts of activity (at least 10 minutes) that add up to a half hour per day.
Instead of thinking in terms of a specific exercise program, work toward permanently changing your lifestyle to incorporate more activity. Don’t forget that muscles used in any activity, any time of day, contribute to fitness. Try working in a little more movement with these extras:
* Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
* Park at the far end of a parking lot and walk to the office or store.
* Get off public transportation a few blocks before your stop.
* Get up from your desk during the day to stretch and walk around.
* Take a brisk walk when you get the urge to snack.
* Increase your pace when working in the house or yard.
* Mow your own lawn and rake your own leaves.
* Carry your own groceries.

All-Season Exercise

If you’re ready to move up to more vigorous activity, remember that “no pain, no gain” isn’t exactly true. The best-laid plans of many a fitness program have been ruined by too much enthusiasm on the first day and sore muscles on the second. A goal is an end point, not a beginning, so work toward your goal gradually. Once you’re in better shape, you can gradually increase your time or distance or change to a more vigorous activity.
If you have cardiovascular disease, you should check with your physician before undertaking more vigorous activity. Likewise, if you’re a man over 40 or a woman over 50 with risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity, seek your doctor’s advice.
The key to a lifetime of fitness is consistency. Here are some tips to
help you make exercise a habit.

* Choose an activity you enjoy.
* Tailor your program to your own fitness level.
* Set realistic goals.
* Choose an exercise that fits your lifestyle.
* Give your body a chance to adjust to your new routine.
* Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
* Don’t give up if you miss a day; just get back on track the next day.
* Find a partner for a little motivation and socialization.
* Build some rest days into your exercise schedule.
* Listen to your body. If you have difficulty breathing or experience
faintness or prolonged weakness during or after exercise, consult your

It’s a good idea to choose more than one type of exercise to give your body a thorough workout and to prevent boredom. Also, you might want to choose one indoor exercise and one outdoor activity to allow for changes in your schedule or for inclement weather. Very few people live in a climate that’s temperate year-round. But weather extremes don’t have to interfere with your exercise routine if you make some minor adjustments.
When it’s hot or humid:

* Exercise during cooler and/or less humid times of day. Try early morning or evening.
* Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
* Avoid alcohol, which encourages dehydration.
* Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
* Stop at the first sign of muscle cramping or dizziness.

When it’s cold:

* Dress in layers.
* Wear gloves or mittens to protect your hands.
* Wear a hat or cap. Up to 40% of body heat is lost through your neck
and head.
* Adjust the size of your shoes if you need to wear thicker
* Warm up slowly.
* Drink plenty of fluids. You can get dehydrated in the winter, too.
* Stop if you experience shivering, drowsiness or disorientation. You
may need help for hypothermia.

Year-round safety:

* Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
* Carry identification with you when exercising outside the home.
* Exercise indoors or try mall-walking when it’s stormy. Don’t risk a
run-in with lightning or ice.
* Build in warm-up and cool-down periods to decrease risk of injury.
* Avoid strenuous exercise for one to two hours after eating.
* Wear sturdy, well-fitting shoes appropriate for the activity.
* Wear brightly colored clothing when exercising outdoors.
* Add lights and reflector tape to your body or bike if you
exercise after dark.
* Wear helmets and safety pads appropriate for the activity.
* Move against traffic if you must run or walk on the road.
* Don’t let headphones distract you from observing traffic and
safety concerns.
* Respect pollution alerts and exercise indoors when warnings are
posted, especially if you have heart or lung disease. Avoid areas where
traffic is heavy.
* Take special care of your feet if you are diabetic or have vascular

Diet and Action – the Fitness Combo

Did you know you need to burn off 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose just one pound? If you’re overweight, eating your usual amount of calories while increasing activity is good for you, but eating fewer calories and being more active is even better. The following chart gives you an idea of the calories used per hour in common activities. Calories burned vary in proportion to body weight, however, so these figures are averages.

Activity Calories burned
per hour
Bicycling 6 mph 240
Bicycling 12 mph 410
Jogging 5.5 mph 740
Jogging 7 mph 920
Jumping rope 750
Running in place 650
Running 10 mph 1,280
Skiing (cross-country) 700
Swimming 25 yds/min 275
Swimming 50 yds/min 500
Tennis (singles) 400
Walking 2 mph 240
Walking 4 mph 440

Source: American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and
Blood Institute.

Before making any major dietary changes, you should check with your doctor. But there are plenty of small changes you can make on your own, such as avoiding sweets and salty foods and cutting down on fat in your diet, especially saturated fat.

No More Excuses

You can probably come up with plenty of excuses for why you’re not more active. You’re too young, you’re too old, you’re too busy, you’re too tired or you’re in pretty good shape – for your age. But with few exceptions, these excuses are pretty flimsy. There are activities for the young and old and for those with little time. So the next time you think about getting fit, don’t ask “Who has time?” Instead, ask yourself “Who doesn’t want to feel better?”


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