Open a newspaper or magazine, switch on a TV channel or pick up a packaged food product, and chances are, sooner or later, you will find yourself coming across the word ‘fit’. These days, we are constantly bombarded with images and information about staying healthy, keeping fit and building our stamina.
But who qualifies as a fit person? Is it someone with a slim, well-toned and sculpted body? Is it someone who rarely falls sick? Or is it someone who can run a marathon without collapsing?
According to the experts, it’s all this and more. “In simple terms, fitness means being able to perform a physical activity without any stress,” explains Dr Sandip Buddhiraja, head, internal medicine, Max Healthcare, Delhi. He adds, “It also means having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. However the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines fitness as ‘a state of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well being.’ You may be physically fit but if you are not mentally or emotionally relaxed and happy, then that fitness won’t be of any use to you.”
Clinical exercise specialist Namita Jain adds, “Being fit helps you feel better and gives you more energy for work and leisure. Children and teens with a high level of fitness may have more energy and focus better at school too. Moreover, 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 you manage your weight.”
Besides this, being fit is also good for your heart, lungs, bones and joints. “It lowers your risk of heart attack, diabetes and blood pressure. It can help you sleep better, handle stress better and keep your mind sharp,” adds Dr Buddhiraja.
But before one tries to achieve a fit body, health experts advise some caution. Says Leena Mogre, director, Leena Mogre’s Fitness, “Before you take up any regime, whether it is at the gym, or a yoga class or an exercise routine at home, you need to get a proper fitness assessment carried out by an expert. This will help you discover your current level of fitness, ascertain the state of your health and calculate your BMI (body mass index), which will help to define your ideal body weight. The right quantity of activity that you require will actually depend on this assessment.”
The four basic parameters of fitness are:
Endurance levels / stamina
Your endurance levels or stamina mean the ability to have enough energy to carry out a whole day’s work without getting tired. “This proves your cardiovascular strength and one of the easiest and simplest ways to test this is to be able to take at least two flight of stairs and hold a conversation without any difficulty, or walk at a fast pace at the rate of about eight minutes for a kilometre,” says Reebok master trainer Nisha Varma. Any activity that raises your heart rate, such as walking or running, can improve your stamina.
Tip: You can improve your stamina by just marching in one place while watching TV or listening to music, jogging in one spot or even doing knee ups for 30 minutes (in three 10-minute slots). Swimming and playing squash are also good options.
Muscular strength is the body’s ability to lift a heavy weight without injuring any joint or muscle. “One good test to check this is to be able to lift a full gas cylinder and move it from one room to another or lift a eight to 10 kg child without compromising one’s posture or carry a small baby (3 to 5 kg) in a shopping mall for at least half an hour without bending your upper back or causing any stress in the lower back,” says Varma.
Muscle strength is important to women who are more prone to problems like osteoporosis in middle age. “Another good way to test your strength level is the ability to shift furniture like a sofa or a single bed without causing any stress or strain to your muscles or even being able to carry around 8-10 kg of shopping bags easily. Activities like weight lifting or push-ups can improve your muscular fitness. Even women should try and lift weights between 3 to 5 kg, suggests Varma.
Tip: “One good way to increase your strength is by doing push ups and abdominal crunches. You can do it at home between 12-16 counts. If you can’t manage, then simply do wall presses, wall push ups or even lunges,” adds Jain.
An important aspect of fitness is the ability to stretch and be flexible. “The easiest way to check your body’s suppleness is to touch your toes or try to reach the highest shelf in your cupboard or get up from a lying position without excessive strain on your lower back,” explains Jain.
Tip: “Any simple stretching exercise, yoga or even Pilates and tai chi are helpful,” adds Jain.
Another aspect that needs a lot of attention is how well are you able to maintain your body’s balance or equilibrium. “While walking on the road, if you suddenly hit a stone and twist your foot, but don’t fall, then that means you have a good balance. Or even if you skid on a wet floor, but are able to avoid a fall, then you have a stable body,” says Jain.
Tip: “One of the best ways to improve flexibility is through yoga. Many asanas are based on the principle of balancing. In fact, balancing is like the core of yoga,” says lifestyle yogalogist Deepak Jha. Adds Jain, “You could also try standing on one leg at home or use a stability ball to improve one’s balance.”
Soundbyte: TV star Hussain kuwajerwala
One has to put in some effort to be in the peak of health. I exercise five days a week and take a break only when I am very tired. It’s important to listen to your body and rest if you are tired. Although I wasn’t fat, I never had a well-toned body. That’s why I go for regular workouts now as I have realised that there are no short cuts to fitness. Unfortunately, I should have paid more attention to my body’s flexibility, which I realise is very essential especially if you want to do well as a dancer. Posture is really important too.
Since emotional or mental fitness plays a large role in our overall fitness, it’s essential to manage stress. "All of us have to realise that stress is the driving force in today’s world and one cannot escape it. Once you realise that, you can handle it," explains Dr Rachna K Singh, lifestyle management expert at Artemis Health Institute in Gurgaon.
Once you become aware of stress, the best approach is to try and balance it. Work out coping strategies. Since each individual is different, his or her way of dealing with stress will be unique. A person has to tackle stress in his or her own way as everybody reacts to situations differently.