You run around all day doing the things you have to, going up and down stairs, chasing after the kids and picking up after them. Suddenly you find yourself winded. You think, how is this possible when I do this day in and day out? AND I workout?!? I’m pretty fit and go to the gym on a regular basis – but then I tried some fun exercise app that had me winded and thinking –AM I IN SHAPE, and what does being ‘fit’ really mean?
What is physical fitness for an adult? When I was young we had to do the President’s Physical Fitness Test as part of the gym class. These days, with budget cuts, phys.ed class is optional in some areas, which I think is a sad commentary on our society’s low emphasis on health and fitness.
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Let’s talk about your level of fitness.
It’s easy to assume that if you’re overweight, you’re unfit and if you have a healthy body weight or normal Body Mass Index (BMI), you must be fit. This is not always the case because you can be at your ideal body weight and still be unfit.
Here are a few fitness level indicators:
- Easily winded or out of breath when exerting yourself
- You get injured very easily when participating in physical activity
- You get achy muscles even after a very small amount of physical activity
- You get stiff joints (a sign that you’re sitting too much)
- You are weak and can’t carry heavy objects
Note: you don’t have to have all five symptoms to be considered unfit, but it’s likely if you don’t engage in vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, you probably are unfit.
How can you measure your (cardiovascular) fitness?
Cardiovascular Fitness is how efficiently your heart and lungs transport oxygen. Harvard Medical School has a step exercise that allows you to test your aerobic fitness. NOTE: Before performing any fitness exercises and tests, always consult your doctor. If you feel any exhaustion, stop the exercise immediately and rest.
Here’s their test:
Using a step approximately 18” high & a stop watch (in your phone perhaps?)
- Climb up and down the step for three minutes, at a rate of 30 steps per minute. That’s roughly a step every 2 seconds (don’t forget to breathe). After three minutes stop. Then rest for one minute. After resting, take your pulse for 30 seconds.
- After 1 minute of rest, take your pulse again for 30 seconds.
- Once you know your pulse, go to this table and find your pulse to rate your current fitness level:
Harvard Step Test
Excellent = > 90
Below Average= 55-64.9
Excellent = > 76
Below Average= 50-60.9
This is only one way of measuring your cardiovascular fitness, but it can give you a general sense of your level of fitness and may indicate you could improve. Don’t over do it. Just start with low impact exercises first, and push a little each time you try.
What is all this about “Sitting Disease”?
Here’s a great info graphic: explaining “Sitting Disease”, and these statistics are pretty scary when you look at them:
Another study from this year even showed that regular exercise doesn’t help if you still sit around a lot. All is not lost, because you can help yourself by doing some of these things:
- Increase the time you are on your feet whenever you can
- Take a break every 30 minutes to stand even if it’s only for a few minutes
- Take short walks when you break for lunch
- Take stairs whenever you can
- Stand and stretch during TV commercials
The tips are endless, but you can’t stand all day. There are specialty mats on the market now, like the Standee Anti Fatigue Mat, which can help if you’re prone to long hours of standing. And ladies, fair warning… get comfortable shoes if you’re going to start to stand more. The best thing to do is buy your shoes in the afternoon when your feet have had a chance to swell. Trust me, I speak from experience, and you’ll thank me later!
So that’s the deal with your fitness. Check and see what your fitness level is. If it’s poor, add in some exercise. If you have medical problems, check with your doctor to see what’s safe for you to do.
At a minimum you should be able to increase the amount of time you are up and out of a chair. Add a few years to your life by being less sedentary.
Beashel. P and Taylor, J (1997) Fitness for Health and performance. In: Beashel, P and Taylor, J, The World of Sport Examined. Croatia: Thomas Nelson and Sons, p. 55
Brough, L. et al. (1943) The step test: A simple method of measuring physical fitness for muscular work in young men. Research quarterly, 14, p. 31-35
Lynch BM, Owen N. Too Much Sitting and Chronic Disease Risk: Steps to Move the Science Forward. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:146-147.