Total Health, Fitness, and Well-Being
Today, with an astounding number of reports about increasing obesity rates, diseases and conditions related to being overweight and out-of-shape, it is impossible to ignore the importance of fitness and well-being in our lives. Health professionals attribute cancer, diabetes and mental issues such as depression to deficiencies in fitness and well-being.
While concentrating on exercise and diet can help people suffering from these diseases, you shouldn't wait until you develop an illness to begin a health and fitness routine. Recent studies have identified as many as 75% of adults as overweight or obese. Only about 26% of American adults participate in vigorous physical and/or leisure activities three or more times a week.
Obese people have a 10–50% increase in premature deaths from all causes compared to individuals with a healthy body weight. The majority of these premature deaths are attributed to cardiovascular causes.
However, diabetes rates are climbing in parallel with these obesity statistics. The five years between 1997 and 2002 saw a 27% increase in the number of diabetes cases. In addition, while diabetes is affecting more and more individuals, it is also affecting individuals at a younger age as well.
With the constant threat of numerous health issues caused by obesity, it is obvious that everyone should be conscious of their personal fitness and mental well-being. The only way to achieve a healthy and fit lifestyle is to make the necessary changes to your everyday life. These changes do not have to be drastic to begin with, and should be things you enjoy and look forward to doing. The most important thing is to make an effort at improving all areas of your personal fitness and well-being, even if changes are gradual.
As introduced at the beginning of this section of our website, there are seven key components associated with the physical and mental aspects of health, fitness and mental well-being. Each contributes to overall health and fitness in its own way. To achieve total physical health and fitness, you must be aware of and work at achieving each of the seven key components. The seven key physical components to overall good health, fitness and mental well-being are:
Cardiovascular and Aerobic Conditioning
Beneficial aerobic activities are defined as exercises that raise your heart rate to your target heart rate and maintain that level for a minimum of 20 minutes. While the most important aspect of aerobic exercise is sustained cardiovascular activity, there is an optimal heart level you should target.
For a cardiovascular workout, 70–85% of your maximum heart rate is the ideal range. Your maximum heart rate will depend on your age. You can easily find this number and pick your target heart rate based on your fitness level.
Aerobic exercise has many benefits. In combination with a healthy diet, it helps you lose weight and keep it off, reducing all the risks associated with being overweight. It strengthens your heart so it doesn't have to beat as fast, lowers blood pressure and reduces bad cholesterol, lessening the risk of heart attack. Aerobic conditioning also controls blood sugar, helping to manage diabetes.
For additional information related to cardiovascular and aerobic conditioning please see our top level section entitled Cardiovascular.
Strength Training and Muscular Development
Strength training is a musculoskeletal exercise type that progressively increases the resistance muscles can overcome. Over time, this enlarges and strengthens the muscle themselves. Strength training improves your health in several ways. More muscle mass increases your metabolism, helping you burn more calories. This makes it easier to control your weight. Stronger muscles reduce the risk of injury during daily activities or other exercise.
Weight training also helps bone health. Bone density is at its height at about age thirty. By stressing the muscles, strength training increases bone density, which reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures.
Without regular strength training, you are probably losing muscle mass right now. A person loses half a pound of muscle every year after age 20, if not actively training. This rate of loss doubles after the age of 60. If you are not actively working on muscular development, you are losing the benefits associated with your metabolism and increasing the risk of injury due to strain and over-exertion.
Strength training and muscular development are critical to true health and fitness. Hence, we have dedicated an entire section of our website, Weight Training, to articles related solely to these areas of physical fitness.
Stretching - Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons
Stretching is another important component of your fitness and well-being. Stretching should be done along with weight training or aerobic exercise at least three times a week.
In addition, stretching should be done when muscles, tendons and ligaments are properly warmed up. This means it is best to stretch just after a brief physical warm-up routine. You should hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds and extend to the point of tension, but stop before pain.
Stretching works by increasing the muscles', ligaments' and tendons' ability to elongate. By taking the time to stretch, and hence elongate your soft tissue, you can increase your flexibility.
While most exercises tend to tighten muscles, ligaments and tendons, stretching assists in keeping them flexible. This makes daily activities and exercise easier and safer. Stretching also improves your range of motion. Good range of motion makes moving limbs in their joints easier, including ones that could prevent or lessen the severity of falls or accidents.
Flexibility and the elongation of your body's soft tissue will also improve blood circulation. This, in turn, will keep your muscles, ligaments and tendons supplied with oxygen so that they are able to recover more quickly from workouts or injury. Finally, stretching can relieve stress by relaxing the tense muscles that often accompany mental tension.
Core stabilization involves strengthening the muscles that line your spine and make up your abdomen and pelvic floor. These muscles help control your posture, balance and the power and efficiency with which you move.
Since it is so important to posture and balance, many of the best exercises for core stability involve maintaining body positions. More specifically, core strengthening typically involves placing the body in a position where the core muscles are required for the body to maintain that position for a certain time interval.
Having strong core muscles makes athletic exercise easier and safer, since power comes from the trunk of the human body and greater core stability creates smoother, more coordinated movement. Core strength training is also excellent in correcting bad posture. This can minimize and even prevent injuries associated with general physical activity. Finally, core strength is required for most explosive movements that are performed across most active sports.
The importance of providing our bodies with the proper nutrition cannot be overstated. Simply put, the human body requires the appropriate balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fat on a daily basis to function optimally and disease-free. In other words, we are what we eat.
Pune-based nutritional therapist, Dr. Vijaya Sathe, a medical doctor in Natural Medicine and founder of the Commonwealth Institute of Acupressure and Natural Medicine in London, says “give the body what it needs and the body heals itself.” Furthermore, Dr. Vijaya Sathe believes “it is the hurry and worry of modern life, compounded by improper eating habits, stress and pollution, which is telling on human health”. The food we consume, as stated by Hippocrates, “is our medicine.”
Several medical professionals believe that virtually every illness is based on some form of nutritional deficiency. When the human body is consistently deprived of one or more nutrients, the human body breaks down and is more susceptible to contracting a disease or, at a lesser level, a group of unhealthy symptoms (i.e. fatigue, muscle soreness, indigestion, etc.).
However, when nutritional deficiencies are eliminated through appropriate changes through dietary intake and the addition of vitamin and mineral supplementation, the symptoms either disappeared or were severely diminished. This being said, it only makes sense that the body requires a high level of nutrients to efficiently perform the various bodily functions that are required to sustain life, ward off disease, and support proper mental function.
Consuming the appropriate nutritional foods facilitates the human body’s ability to strengthen its immune system, hence allowing the body to perform optimally, free of disease, and at an increased level of energy. Finally, by allowing the human body to heal itself through a healthy, nutritious and fit lifestyle, the body will operate at a level that does not require the continuous use of medical drugs.
Mental Rest and Relaxation
Proper rest and relaxation are important to give the mind and body time to recuperate. Like muscles that become sore due to use, the brain needs time to cool down. Without this time, function and performance decrease and complications arise. Inadequately rested muscles can lead to injury and a tired brain can create stress and confusion. Be sure you are taking enough time to relax between activities.
The human body cannot achieve an optimum level of health and fitness without the mind being of a centered and balanced nature. As mental rest and relaxation is one of the seven key components of good health and fitness, it is important that you become familiar with the approaches and techniques associated with balancing the mind.
Sleep is necessary for your overall health, fitness and mental well-being. Experts recommend eight hours of sleep to obtain the maximum benefits, which are many. Lack of sleep has been proven to lower the efficiency of your immune system. It has also been implicated in contributing to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Recent studies suggest that not getting enough sleep can prevent people from losing weight.
Sleep also gives your brain time to sort out the information it has collected during the day. This reduces confusion, improves memory and makes you more alert. Sleep also positively affects coordination and appearance.
Beginning to Increase Your Level of Fitness and Well-Being
One easy step is to make an assessment of your current fitness level and increase your activity appropriately. The U.S. Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends adults have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 24. You should also consider cardiovascular health when making your health assessment. Though it depends on many factors, a good resting heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute, and a healthy blood pressure is less than 120 over 80 mmHg. You should seek the advice of a health professional to determine your current state of health and receive recommendations for a fitness program.
For many people who get very little exercise, adding more activity to their lives can begin with simply walking more. If possible, you may decide to walk to work rather than drive, or simply go for a walk in your neighborhood in the evenings. Some take up a new activity such as dancing. Those who already have a pastime such as golf may add more active elements to it, such as forgoing the use of a golf cart.
Taking a good look at your diet and bringing it within the limits of your nutritional needs is another important basic element to becoming healthier. Dietary requirements vary for people of different ages, sexes and activity levels. In general, the USDA recommends a 2,000-calorie diet and no more than 65 grams of fat per day. This is a good place to start, but there are many diet options to assist you with maintaining a healthy weight level. Losing even a small amount of weight will make being active easier, and motivates people to work even harder on their health.
Adding a Fitness Plan to an Active Lifestyle
Individuals who are already active will still see benefits from increasing their level of fitness and well-being. It will make the activities they already participate in easier to perform and more enjoyable. For these people, the best thing to do is to implement a fitness plan.
A good fitness plan takes many aspects into account. Among other things, it should involve regimented exercise, diet and nutrition, as well as time for mental and physical rest. It is recommended that you consult fitness experts to assist in developing a fitness plan. Fitness experts have the necessary knowledge, experience and training to appropriately evaluate your current fitness level, and thereafter make recommendations regarding your fitness routine as your fitness level progresses.
Active people and athletes need structured fitness plans because their tolerance for exercise is much greater. They need to focus and target workouts more acutely than those just beginning to get fit. Since they are already within a healthy body weight range, cutting calories and fat is probably not the primary goal of their dietary regimens.
Consuming proper nutrition every day is the most important aspect on an active person's diet. This means eating whole, unprocessed food for the right balance of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients without excess sugar and fats.
Fitness and mental well-being are too important to ignore. The benefits of an active, healthy lifestyle are undeniable. Whether you decide to increase your activity level slightly or develop and participate in a thorough fitness plan, any attention you allocate to fitness and well-being will pay off in the long run. Consult professionals to evaluate your physical condition and recommend a fitness approach that is ideal for you.