In this fast-paced modern world, life may have become mechanical, but we still are human. We are abusing our body every day with unhealthy lifestyle choices like physical inactivity due to sedentary behavior, long working hours, unhealthy eating habits along with tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.
This unhealthy lifestyle has given rise to many new health problems and because, of which even young people in their 20s have many lifestyle-related conditions like obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, etc. Nowadays, heart attacks are striking people under the age of 40, and some of them are in their 20’s and early 30’s.
The 3D’s Of Modern Lifestyle – Disease, Disability, and Death
The modern lifestyle has given rise to an increased prevalence of what is called Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). NCDs are the leading causes of death and disability globally.
To know about NCDs read this article: Modern Lifestyle – How healthy are we? – Fitness Grasp
People living with NCDs are more likely to develop impairments as the disease progresses. Nearly half of the adult population reported having limited activity due to at least one chronic disease. Not just death, even disability can cause serious damage to your financial and social position. It not only results in loss of income but also can change your life forever.
Well, in most cases, these problems are self-inflicted. We are so busy with our lives that we take our health and fitness quite lightly till we fall sick.
Health and fitness, not the top priority for most people
For many of us, family, work, social life, and hobbies are more important than physical and mental health. Health and fitness rarely make it to the top of the list, if at all, it is there. What we fail to understand is that health is the foundation upon which you build everything. Without your health, it may be very difficult to do all the things you love to do and enjoy life to the fullest.
Prevention better than cure for non-communicable diseases
In this day and age, we have achieved several milestones in the field of medicine. Yet, there seems to be no cure for many of these chronic diseases. Medication may help you to keep the disease under control, but it does not cure them completely.
However, the good news is that most of these chronic diseases are preventable by improving one’s health and fitness. There is overwhelming evidence from studies across the world that physical activity, along with a healthy diet, can prevent or delay the onset of NCDs.
Importance of Physical Fitness In our Life
Fitness is the key to good health. There is a definitive link between physical fitness and good health. Research has shown that engaging in regular fitness activities has measurable physical and mental health benefits.
Also, the findings show that a high level of physical fitness is associated with a reduced risk of developing a wide range of Non-Communicable Diseases brought on by unhealthy lifestyle or aging. Being physically active directly reduces your risk of three cancers – colorectal, breast, and endometrial and indirectly reduces your risk for many other types of cancer.
Increasing your fitness level can improve your health in many ways. It helps you to stay active, manage your weight better, boosts immunity, lifts your mood, improves your sleep, strengthens muscles, bones, and joints, among many others.
Fitness means different things to different people and they engage in fitness for a variety of reasons.
Media such as TV, commercial advertisements, magazines, and movies, tend to push the idea that fitness is about physique. Women who are slim with flat stomachs and men who are muscular are promoted by the media as the ideal standards of female and male body images.
Such kind of portrayal has created a powerful force in promoting the stereotype of ideal body image and is influencing people to engage in fitness for appearance-based motives rather than health benefits.
Appearances can be deceiving, and fitness is defined in terms of functional ability and not physical appearance. Let us try to understand what fitness is and how to achieve it.
Physical fitness is defined, as “the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and to meet unforeseen emergencies.”
In simple terms, “Fitness is a condition in which an individual has sufficient energy to carry out daily activities and enjoy life without unnecessarily getting tired and also should be able to handle any emergencies.”
Therefore, fitness is not about what you see on the outside; it is about how you feel on the inside.
Physical fitness is composed of various elements that can be broadly grouped into skill-related components and health-related components.
The skill-related components are agility, balance, power, speed, coordination, and reaction time. They improve a person’s motor skills and are related to sport or athletic performance. The skill-related components improve a person’s motor skills and are usually used to help athletes to excel in various athletic or sports activities.
The health-related components of physical fitness are cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. The health-related components improve your overall health and physical well-being and play an important role in preventing chronic diseases.
Hence a good understanding, of the five health-related components of physical fitness is necessary to plan a well-rounded workout routine that addresses all five components.
Increasing your fitness level is fairly straightforward and inexpensive, but it takes some time and effort. Fitness is generally achieved through regular exercise, a healthy diet (nutrition), and adequate sleep.
Exercise improves the health-related components of fitness (especially cardiorespiratory fitness). A healthy diet provides you with energy and all the essential nutrients. Whereas good sleep restores and heals your body.
All three factors are equally important and together, these three—exercise, diet, and sleep form the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle.
“Idleness is to the human mind like rust to iron” – Ezra Cornell
Inactivity not just deteriorates the mind but also the body. Thus we can say, lack of exercise is to the human body like rust to iron. Just as iron rusts from disuse, lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being.
Exercise is not only recommended for preventing chronic diseases. It is now, prescribed to treat or manage a range of health conditions like high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, depression, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and much more. Doctors are prescribing exercise, just like any regular prescription with type, intensity, frequency, and duration.
FITT Principle: The FITT principle is widely used by doctors to create exercise programs customized for each patient, to suit their lifestyle and health requirements. FITT stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise.
Frequency refers to how often you exercise, intensity is how hard you exercise, time refers to duration (how long you exercise), and type refers to what kind of exercise you need to do to improve your overall physical fitness.
These four are the key elements of any exercise program and by understanding the FITT principle, you can create a workout plan that will be more effective in reaching your fitness goals.
As for the fitness goals, if you are just looking to improve your overall fitness, you can follow the physical activity guidelines given below, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
- For substantial health benefits, adults should perform at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both spread throughout the week.
- Additional health benefits may be achieved by engaging in more than 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are of moderate or greater intensity and involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
- Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits. Some physical activity is better than none.
- Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
These guidelines are based on current scientific and clinical evidence supporting the relationship between physical activity, overall health, and fitness.
Accordingly, for substantial health benefits to happen, any physical activity that is done should meet the minimum requirements – such as frequency, intensity, duration, and type – as laid down by the guidelines.
Most of our day to day activities are generally considered light to moderate in intensity and may not be adequate to meet the above recommendations. Also, practically it is difficult to keep a record of the activities that we do every day.
Hence, it is best to try to incorporate an exercise routine into your daily life. Since exercise is planned, structured, and repetitive, you can keep track of the frequency, intensity, duration (time), and type of activity.
As for the exercise routine, you can stick to the above guidelines. It addresses all four elements of the FITT principle and is more than sufficient to improve the health-related components of physical fitness.
If you have more specific goals like weight loss or bodybuilding, you can alter those four elements of the FITT principle accordingly and create a custom workout plan to reach your fitness goals faster.
Given below is a typical exercise routine based on the above physical activity guidelines:
- Aerobic exercises like jogging, cycling (biking), swimming, jump rope (skipping), dancing, etc.., of moderate to vigorous intensity for five days a week, at least for 15 to 30 minutes duration (depending on intensity) improve your cardio-respiratory endurance.
- Muscle-strengthening exercise involving all major muscle groups on two or more days a week improves muscular strength and muscular endurance. Exercises like biceps curl, push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, squats, lunges, crunches, planks, leg-raise, and so on, work and strengthen most of the major muscles of your body (upper limb, torso, and lower limb).
- Aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises along with a healthy diet can help to lower excess body fat and build muscles and thereby improves your body composition. Additionally, you can add exercises like stretching or yoga to improve your flexibility.
If you are a beginner, you can start with low to moderate-intensity exercise like walking every other day and gradually increase the frequency and intensity to meet the recommendations.
As to whether you like to join a gym to exercise regularly or work out at home may come down to personal preference. Joining a gym does have its advantages, though.
Many of the strengthening exercises mentioned above are bodyweight exercises (done using your own weight) and can be done at home as they do not require equipment. Whereas exercise like running or cycling can be done outdoor in a natural environment, for it is more enjoyable and you get to breathe fresh air.
All you need is a good pair of running shoes and a pair of dumbbells. Additional equipment like barbells, jump rope, resistance tubing, bike (bicycle), or a cross-trainer can greatly expand your exercise options.
2) Healthy Diet
Fitness is much more than exercise. While regular exercise is important undoubtedly, numerous studies have shown that diet also has a major impact and that fitness, cannot be fully achieved without a healthy diet.
A healthy diet is one that contains all the required nutrients essential for us to maintain life, grow, develop, and reproduce. Our body requires five important nutrients and they are categorized as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are called macro-nutrients, whereas vitamins and minerals are called micro-nutrients.
Macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) provide us with the energy required to sustain life and carry out our daily activities.
Macro-nutrients along with micro-nutrients provide us the elements required for other important body functions like growth, development, repair, and reproduction. Also, keep our immune system in good order to prevent illness and recover from it. Furthermore, a healthy diet lowers the risk of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
All five nutrients are essential, as each one has different health benefits. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy and dietary fiber. Whereas, fats provide essential fatty acids along with energy. Proteins provide essential amino acids and energy in the absence of carbohydrates and fats.
Vitamins and minerals are required for various metabolic activities, growth, repair, normal functioning of the immune system and also function as antioxidants and coenzymes.
Furthermore, quality and quantity matter too. Quality refers to the source (food) from where the nutrient is derived. For example, carbohydrates from whole foods or minimally processed foods are healthy and are of better quality than those coming from refined or processed foods.
Regarding quantity, it refers to the amount or percentage of each nutrient present in the diet. Requirements for essential nutrients can vary from person to person depending on age, gender, and physical activity level.
A diet that contains nutrients less than that required by the body (undernutrition) can result in nutritional deficiencies. Whereas, a diet that contains too much of nutrients (overnutrition) can lead to diseases of affluence such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.
Both deficiency and as well as excess can lead to a variety of health problems and nutritional diseases. Balance is the key – it is about having all the nutrients in the correct proportions. A diet that contains a balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals is called a ‘Balanced Diet’.
As a general guide, the appropriate proportions of nutrients in a balanced diet comprises 45-65% of daily calories coming from carbohydrates, 20-35% fat and 10-35% protein. Vitamins and minerals are needed in small amounts and generally, we get them along with the macro-nutrients.
All these five nutrients can be obtained, through a combination of five major food groups:
- Grains (Cereals)
- Protein Foods (Meat, Poultry, Seafood, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, Soy Products)
- Dairy Products
MyPlate – A Simple Visual Guide to a Healthy Balanced Diet: MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-follow visual format. MyPlate, make it easier for you to visualize the relative proportions of each of the food groups needed to have a well-balanced and healthy diet.
MyPlate is divided into four sections of approximately 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits, 30 percent grains, and 20 percent protein, along with a smaller circle representing dairy, such as a glass of milk or a yogurt cup.
Portion Size: Portion size means the quantity or the daily recommended amounts for each food group every day and it depends on your age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity levels.
Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water and avoid drinks that contain added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat. Frequent consumption of drinks high in added sugar or saturated fat like fruit juices, chocolate drinks, and some alcoholic drinks can potentially lead to excessive calorie intake and cause weight gain. Make water or milk your drink of choice instead of juice and sugary fizzy drinks, also reduce the amount of sugar you add to hot drinks.
Fad Diets: Fad diets have gained huge popularity in recent years because they promise quick and easy weight loss or other health benefits like detoxification and cancer prevention.
Fad diets have variable results and most of the time these diets can only lead to short-term weight loss. In most cases, this is because they severely restrict your calorie intake. Once the diet is stopped, the lost weight is often regained quickly afterward.
Fad diets are not sustainable for a long term because many of them restrict the intake of certain food groups or nutrients and therefore are nutritionally unbalanced. In a long run, these diets can cause nutritional deficiencies and a variety of health problems.
Sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle and is as important to our health as diet and exercise. We all know that if we do not get enough sleep, it affects our ability to do everyday activities. After getting a good night’s sleep we feel fresher, more energetic, happier and our performance improves, as well.
Lack of sleep can trigger the body to release stress hormones like cortisol. This hormone has a number of functions— affects the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It regulates blood pressure, blood sugar, influences the immune system and inflammation, controls the sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, it is found to have an effect on appetite, mood, and behavior.
Chronic lack of sleep can cause cortisol to be elevated over long periods of time, which in turn can cause many health problems. The long-term effects of sleep loss have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, stroke, and impaired immune function.
Relationship between sleep and fitness- chronic lack of sleep causing prolonged elevated levels of cortisol, can lead to the breakdown of proteins (proteolysis) and loss of skeletal muscle mass (muscle atrophy). Also, when you do not sleep long enough, it can interfere with the hormones responsible for appetite, increase hunger, make you crave sweets and fatty foods, thereby can, lead to weight gain.
Now, let us see how sleep improves health and fitness. When you sleep, your body goes into recovery mode. Sleep restores your body’s energy and many functions in the body such as protein synthesis, muscle repair, tissue growth, and release of many of the important hormones for growth occur mostly during sleep. Simply, it’s just that our body restores and heals itself during sleep.
Sleep plays a significant part in muscle repair and recovery after a strenuous workout. The hormones, including human growth hormone, released during sleep helps repair muscles, promotes muscle growth, and improves performance. Hence, sleep should always be a part of your workout regimen.
Both the quantity and quality of sleep matters. Regarding quantity, it is recommended that you should sleep for anywhere between 7 to 9 hours a night. Although sleep needs vary from person to person, 7 hours is the lower limit for how much sleep a healthy adult should get per night, and also research has found that sleeping for more than 9 hours a night may do more harm than good.
Now coming to the quality of sleep, it refers to how well you sleep. Measuring the quality of sleep can be more difficult than quantity, but it is possible to access the quality using certain key indicators.
Getting good quality sleep means that:
- You are typically able to fall asleep in 30 minutes or less after going to bed.
- Not waking up more than once per night and drift back to sleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up.
- You are able to sleep at least 85 percent of the total time in bed.
You should focus on both the sleep quantity and quality, in order to to get the optimal amount of restorative sleep for the body to rejuvenate. Practicing good sleep habits (also called “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.
Fitness is a healthy way of life
Health is the foundation of all things in life, upon which rests everything such as your career, love, relationship, family, success, and happiness.
Prioritize your health. Every journey begins with the first step and fitness is the first step towards being healthy and functional. Fitness is not about looking good, it’s about feeling good. A healthy and stress-free life is only possible through physical fitness. Fitness is a healthy way of life.
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