What is fitness?
Fitness means being able to perform physical activity. It also means having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. Getting more fit, even a little bit, can improve your health.
You don't have to be an athlete to be fit. Athletes reach a very high level of fitness. And people who take brisk half-hour walks every day reach a good level of fitness. Even people who can't do that much can work toward some level of fitness that helps them feel better and have more energy.
This topic focuses on health-related fitness, which helps you feel your best and lowers your risk for certain diseases. Making small changes in your daily lifestyle helps you improve your fitness.
What are the benefits of fitness?
Fitness helps you feel better and have more energy for work and leisure time. You'll feel more able to do things like playing with your kids, gardening, dancing, or biking. Children and teens who are fit may have more energy and better focus at school.
When you stay active and fit, you burn more calories, even when you're at rest. Being fit lets you do more physical activity. And it lets you exercise harder without as much work. It can also help manage weight.
Fitness is good for your heart, lungs, bones, and joints. And it lowers your risk for heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. It also can help you to sleep better, handle stress better, and keep your mind sharp.
How much physical activity do you need for health-related fitness?
To improve your health, it’s important to make physical activity part of your daily life.
One way is to get moderate activity, like brisk walking, for at least 2½ hours a week.
Or you can do vigorous exercise, like running, for at least 1¼ hours a week. This activity makes you breathe harder and have a much faster heartbeat than at rest.
Experts recommend that teens and children (starting at age 6) do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.
To find your target heart rate for exercise, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?
Here’s how you can tell if an activity or exercise is making you work hard enough. If you can't talk while you do it, you're working too hard. You're at the right level if you can talk but not sing during the activity.
What types of physical activity improve fitness?
The activities you choose depend on which kind of fitness you want to improve. There are three different kinds of fitness:
- Flexibility is the ability to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. Stretching is an exercise that helps you to be more flexible.
- Aerobic fitness means increasing how well your body uses oxygen. This depends on the condition of your heart, lungs, and muscles. Any activity that raises your heart rate, such as walking or running, can improve aerobic fitness.
- Muscle fitness means building stronger muscles and increasing how long you can use them (called endurance). Activities like weight lifting or push-ups can improve your muscular fitness.
You may be in better shape in one kind of fitness than another. For example, you might be flexible but have poor muscle strength. It’s best to work on all three kinds of fitness.
How can you be more physically active?
If you're ready to add more physical activity to your life, here are some tips to get you started:
- Make physical activity part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or going to work. Try biking to work at least once a week, using the stairs more often, or walking to do errands near home. But talk to your doctor before you start an exercise routine, especially if you haven't been very active or have health problems.
- Walking is one of the best fitness activities. To keep up a routine, you can walk with family members, friends, coworkers, or pets. Keep track of your steps with a step counter or pedometer, which you can buy at a sporting goods store. This can help motivate you to walk more.
- Schedule activity for times that you're likely to stick with it. For example, walk in the morning if you tend to talk yourself out of it later in the day. If you don't have time for one 30-minute walk, break it up into three 10-minute walks.
- Find a partner to do your activities with. This can make exercising more enjoyable.
- If you want a more structured exercise routine, consider joining a health club or a community center that offers fitness activities.
- Find an activity that you enjoy, and stay with it. Vary it with other activities so you don't get bored. For example, walk 3 days a week, and switch to swimming or biking on the other days. Join a softball, volleyball, or basketball league for fun and exercise. By finding more activities you enjoy, you'll have a greater chance for success. Use the Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn? to find out how many calories you burn during exercise and daily activities.
- Setting small, realistic goals can help you improve your fitness. Write down your goals and activities. Give yourself a healthy reward, like getting a massage, each time you reach a goal.