Physical Fitness 101: Definition, Components, and Benefits

What does physical fitness mean to you? Do you think physical fitness only applies to sports enthusiasts and elite athletes? 

Do you consider yourself to be physically fit? Do you have to train as hard as athletes to gain its benefits? 

If you are not sure what physical fitness refers to and/or what health benefits you can attain by being physically fit, take a few minutes to read this article. 

What is Physical Fitness?

Physical fitness is a state of well-being and health and, more specifically, the ability to perform aspects of daily activities, occupations, and sports. Generally, physical fitness is achieved through sufficient rest, proper nutrition, and moderate-vigorous physical exercise. 

Physical fitness is often associated with well-being and health, since being physically fit is typically associated with improved health such as heart and lung function (cardiovascular fitness). 

Another attribute of physical fitness, muscular fitness (muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility) contributes to ease of movement when completing day-to-day tasks, and also protects your body from injury when performing daily activities. 

Your physical build (waist circumference, body weight, body mass index, and body composition) is also considered an attribute of physical fitness as the components of your physical build can either positively or negatively impact your physical fitness and overall health.

Being physically fit allows you to more easily meet the physical demands of day-to-day living, and respond positively to increased physical demands, even under stressful conditions. 

Components of Physical Fitness

There are five main components of physical fitness: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

  • Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular endurance is your body’s ability to keep up with exercises like jogging, running, cycling, swimming, and anything that forces your cardiovascular system to work for extended periods of time. Together, the lungs and heart fuel your body with the oxygen required by your muscles, ensuring that they have the oxygen necessary for the work they are going. 

The Copper Run (running as far as possible within 12 minutes) is a test commonly used to evaluate cardiovascular endurance. Many trainers also use the Step Test (stepping onto a platform for 5 minutes). Both are accurate measures of a person’s cardiovascular endurance. 

  • Muscular Strength

Muscular strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force to overcome resistance in one effort. This is the ‘power’ that helps you move, lift, and carry heavy objects. Without muscular strength, your body would be weak and unable to keep up with the demands placed upon it. 

The way to increase muscular strength is to train with heavy weights, working in the 4 – 6 or 12 – 15 rep ranges. The heaver the weight, the fewer reps you should do! You can use lighter weights to initially build muscular strength, but eventually, you will have to use heavier weights and fewer repetitions than for endurance training. When you’re designing your muscular strength program, follow the FITT principle – consider the Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type of your workout. 

  • Muscular Endurance

Muscular strength and endurance are two important factors of your body’s ability to move, lift things, and do everyday activities. Muscular strength is the amount of force you can exert or the amount of weight you can lift. Muscular endurance is how many times you can move that weight without getting tired. 

Muscular endurance can be improved by applying multiple fitness styles or even a combination of those into your usual workout routine. This includes cardio training, strength training, and circuit training. An effective muscle endurance program includes a good combination of exercises that put to use one or two joints or limbs. Your training program can be tailored to match your training level – whether you’re a novice or pro. Some exercises that can help improve your muscular endurance include, planks, pushups, sit-ups, bodyweight squats, and walking lunges. 

  • Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most vital, yet often overlooked, components of physical fitness. Without flexibility, the joints and muscles would grow stiff and movement would be very limited. Flexibility training ensures that your body can move through its entire range of motion without stiffness or pain. 

To test your flexibility, lean forward and try to touch your toes. People with good flexibility will usually be able to touch their toes, while those with limited flexibility will not. The sit-and-reach test (sitting on the floor and reaching toward your toes) is another way to evaluate your flexibility – the more flexible you are, the closer you will come to touching your toes and beyond. 

  • Body Composition

Body composition is the proportion of fat and non-fat mass in your body. A healthy body composition is one that includes a lower body fat percentage and a higher non-fat mass percentage, which includes organs, bones, and muscles. Knowing your body composition can help you assess your overall health and fitness level. Often, you will measure your body composition at the start of a fitness or weight-loss program, and then check it regularly to monitor your progress. 

Weighing yourself on a bathroom scale does not assess your body composition. A regular scale can’t tell you how much of your total weight is composed of muscle, fat, or water. There are several ways to get an estimate of your body composition. You can get it by using a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, skinfold measurements, hydrostatic weighing, or BIA body fat scales. 

Physical Fitness: Reaction Time, Speed, Coordination, Power, and Agility

Below, we discuss terms you will commonly encounter throughout your physical fitness journey. 

What is reaction time in physical fitness? Reaction time refers to how quickly an individual responds to a specific stimulus. Reaction time is a skill-related component of physical fitness. Reaction time relates to performance because it is used frequently in various sporting scenarios – from the sprinter responding to the racegun to a tennis player who has to react to their opponent’s serve. Reaction time affects performance, and the better your reaction time, the better you will perform in certain situations. 

What is speed in physical fitness? Speed is the ability to move quickly across the ground or move limbs rapidly to throw or grab something. However, speed is not just about how fast someone can run (or walk, cycle, swim, etc.), but is dependent on their acceleration (how fast they can accelerate from a stationary position), maximal speed of movement, and also speed maintenance. Speed is one of the main fitness components, crucial for success in many sports. 

What is coordination in physical fitness? Body coordination is a performance-related fitness component that describes the efficient, smooth movement patterns that are parts of sports skills and tasks. Developing smooth movements is crucial for completing day-to-day tasks. If you are an athlete, how quickly you can development movements and sport skills mean the difference between success or failure. If you are coordinated, you can make your muscles work together at just the right time to produce the exact amount of force necessary to accomplish a task smoothly. 

What is power in physical fitness? Power is a skill-related component of physical fitness. It is defined as an amount of work done in a particular time. ‘Work’ is the product of a force on an object, and remember, muscular strength is the maximal amount of force muscles can exert on an object. What does this mean? This means that muscular power is directly affected by muscular strength. In this context, power can be thought of a strength at speed. To measure a person’s maximal power is to measure how much strength they have at the fastest speed they can exert it. Note that strength and power are not the same thing. While strength is the maximal force you can apply against a load, power is proportional to the speed at which you can apply this maximal force. Training to improve power can include running against a resistance, weight lifting, plyometrics (depth jumping and bounding).

What is agility in physical fitness? Agility refers to the ability to move and change the position and direction of the body quickly and effectively while under control. It requires balance, coordination, speed, quick reflexes, and the right response to the changing situation. To be agile, you are responding to what is happening around you, taking in that information and translating it into body positioning that will maintain control and balance. You are moving to the best position to take the next action, such as making a tackle or catching a ball. You are moving in a way that your body is in the right position to take the next action effectively. Agility is one of the key components of physical fitness and is crucial in many sports and physical activities.

The Importance of Physical Fitness

A person who is physical fit is capable of living life to the fullest extent. 

There are numerous health benefits to physical fitness. Physical activity and regular exercise promote strong bones and muscles. It improves cardiovascular and respiratory health, and overall health. Staying active can also help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and reduce your risk for some cancers. In other words, staying active is an important part of maintain good health and overall wellness. 

The Bottom Line

Being physically fit allows you to more easily meet the physical demands of day-to-day living, and respond positively to increased physical demands, even under stressful conditions. 

Incorporating regular exercise into your daily schedule may seem hard at first. But, you can start slowly and break your exercise time into chunks – even doing fifteen minutes at a time is fine. You can work your way up to increasing the intensity and duration of your exercise later on.

Good luck on your journey towards improved physical fitness!

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