Physical fitness keys: nutrition, exercise, and rest
Health is dynamic in its process. Health changes as we change our lifestyle, work, thoughts, stress levels, sleeping and eating habits. Fitness is defined as the state of being fit and the
ability to efficiently perform functions with significant aerobic or anaerobic ability in the aspects of sports, occupation or daily activities without undue fatigue.
We are all too familiar with term life span which is the average length life or existence. The word has a relatively new frequent companion: health span. A person's health span is the length of time that the person is healthy—not just alive. A longer health span is our new aim. We prefer to lead full, healthy, happy quality lives as we meet our children and grandchildren. We can make a huge difference in our lives by staying fit and healthy.
Many attribute fitness as just not physical but also mental, social and emotional as well. Physical fitness prevents or may even treat chronic health conditions as well as alleviate mood or mental disorders, activating the endocrine system, influencing hormones to promote tissue growth and repair and regulate inflammatory conditions.
Physical fitness is generally achieved through proper nutrition, moderate to high-intensity exercise and enough rest. It is essential to know our target heart rate when we do exercise so as not to push our body outside of our limits that may cause fatigue. The general rule when starting a fitness journey is doing it gently, pace it right, make a long-term agreement to get fit. Overall, fitness makes us look fit and healthy.
Benefits of exercise:
- Controls blood pressure — moderate to high-intensity exercises has proven to help build a stronger heart, better blood vessels and has help control blood pressure. Athletes have a lower heart rate than usual (bradycardia) resulting from regular physical fitness exercises.
- Prevents cancer — engaging in physical activity helps to reduce the risk of cancer as it helps upregulate the immune system. The American Institute for Cancer Research and American Cancer Society have repeatedly published a list of recommendations that reflect the evidence they have found through consistency in fitness and dietary factors that directly relate to cancer prevention.
- Decreases blood sugar and cholesterol — regular physical exercise is a factor that helps reduce an individual’s blood sugar and improves cholesterol levels by increasing sugar utilization by the muscles and decrease insulin resistance.
- Increases Immune system — physical activity activates the sympathetic nervous system and has shown to increase the levels of natural killer (NK) cells, NK T cells, macrophages, neutrophils and eosinophils, complements, cytokines, antibodies, and T cytotoxic cells.
- Helps fight depression — high-intensity exercise helps release endorphins which are so-called ‘happy hormones’ of the body and make better nerve cell connections that naturally fight depression
- Natural anti-inflammatory — physical fitness produces both a short-term inflammatory response and a long-term anti-inflammatory effect. It regulates cortisol levels and other adrenal hormones producing better pain and inflammation responses.
- Controls weight — exercise levels help the distribution of body fat, increase the amount of muscle in the body, and help keep lean body weight.
- Helps in menopause — hormonal changes may wreak havoc to physical and physiological aspects of the body. One way to prevent or reduce the severity of the symptoms is to keep a moderate amount of fitness at bay.
- Increases concentration — exercise stimulates your body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of your brain hence increased focus and concentration
- Reduce fatigue and stress — cortisol increases in high levels of stress while rigorous activity regulates it. Exercise maintains our focus on our physical body, out of our mental stresses and helps greatly to fight fatigue
- Strengthen your bones and muscles — regular exercise builds strong bones, slow the loss of bone density that comes with age and helps increase or maintain muscle mass and strength.
- Improve your sleep — exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It is best to do exercise at least 4 hours before sleeping
- Improve your sexual health — exercise may help improve their sexual function and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction in men and may increase sexual arousal in women.
- Promotes anti-aging — ‘immunosenescence' is the term associated with a decline in the normal functioning of the immune system. Regular exercise lowers levels of the inflammatory cytokines that cause the ‘inflamm-aging.'
To achieve some of these benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests at least 30-60 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week.
What research says
A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed physical fitness boosts brainpower in kids. The group who were physically fit got an average score of 54.2 percent and the kids who were not fit got an average score of 44.2 percent. The difference was more pronounced when children were asked to remember the map they had learned without the benefit of quizzes — the fit kids scored 43 percent on average, while the unfit kids scored 25.8 percent on average. Researchers found out that “higher levels of fitness have their greatest impact in the most challenging situations.” They also speculated that most of the benefits of being physically fit to come into play when a child is committing new information to memory, and not as much when that information is recalled later.
Another study by the journal BMJ examined 15,174 Olympic medalists and concluded that Olympic medalists stay alive almost three years longer on average than their country's general population. The study found that athletes in endurance sports such as long-distance running were 13 percent more likely to be alive after 30 years than their peers in the general population. For athletes in power sports such as boxing and weightlifting, the advantage was just 5 percent. The study also showed that Russian Olympic winners were 18 percent more likely to be alive after 30 years than their compatriots — more than double the overall advantage 8 percent for all countries studied.
Choosing your exercise intensity:
- Aerobic activity — includes brisk walking, swimming, jogging. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity.
- Strength training — includes weights, weight machines or activities that use your own body weight, such as rock climbing or heavy gardening.
Be realistic and don't push yourself too hard, too fast. Fitness is a lifetime commitment, not a sprint to a finish line.
How to calculate exercise
It is recommended that you exercise within 55 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 20 to 30 minutes to get the best results from aerobic exercise. The MHR (roughly calculated as 220 minus your age) is the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity.
For example, say your age is 45 and you want to figure out your target training heart rate zone for vigorous exercise. Subtract 45 from 220 to get 175 — this is your maximum heart rate. Next, calculate your HRR by subtracting your resting heart rate of 80 beats per minute from 175. Your HRR is 95. Multiply 95 by 0.7 to get 66.5, then add your resting heart rate of 80 to get 146.5. Now multiply 95 by 0.85 to get 80.75, then add your resting heart rate of 80 to get 160.75. So your target for your vigorous intensity training zone heart rate should be between 146.5 and 160.75 beats per minute.
The American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a general target heart rate of:
- Moderate exercise intensity: 50 to about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Vigorous exercise intensity: 70 to about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
How to track your performance:
- Smartwatches — a lot of smartwatches are now available to help you track activity, steps, calories or even heart rate. There are lots to choose from and very efficient to help you track your goal.
- Mobile applications — fitness applications are readily downloadable to guide you in methods and length or training just like having a personal trainer around. There are also applications catered to monitor the calories and nutrients you’re having for the day.
Eating and exercise intervals
If you exercise in the morning, get up early enough to finish breakfast at least one hour before your workout. Studies suggest eating or drinking carbohydrates before exercise can improve workout performance and may allow you to work out for a longer duration or higher intensity. If you don't eat, you might feel sluggish or lightheaded when you exercise.
- Large meals — eat these at least three to four hours before exercising.
- Small meals or snacks — eat these about one to three hours before exercising.
Don't forget to drink fluids or have a handy water tumbler with you. You need adequate fluids before, during and after exercise to help prevent dehydration.
- Making breakfast the heaviest and dinner the lightest meal of the day.
- Eat your salad before you eat the meal.
- Don’t starve yourself and overeat subsequently.
- Fast food and canned food are costly both for your pocket and your heart.
- Yellow, orange and green vegetables and fruits add life to your heart.
- As your age advances, control your eating and exercise more.
- Kenney WL, et al. Body composition and nutrition for sport. In: Physiology of Sport and Exercise. 6th ed. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics; 2015.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.