Let’s look at fitness in a more wholistic way. Understanding fitness in its purest context helps in planning and implementing successful exercise, other physical activity, and even nutritional interventions.
Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it. — Plato
An individual can be considered physically fit or display physical fitness in two ways. First, for many people, fitness conjures images of models on wellness industry magazine covers (by the way, their strong, lean, athletic bodies are air brushed and often photo shopped). For the typical American, “fit” is what you want to be before you go to the beach in that new bathing suit. Most of us call it “being in shape” and it is purely a visual thing.
The second way is expressed by the biological meaning of fitness. The more likely that an individual will survive and live longer to reproduce in their environment, the more “fit” they are. Biological fitness implies vigor and the ability to survive and thrive. That’s what we should really strive for, except for perhaps, the reproduction part.
The biological definition best serves us in our quest for optimal health, wellness, and living our best life. Even so, we mostly work for the “look good” option. The exception becomes more apparent later in life when our entire existence becomes more about fighting disease. It makes sense that we should put more effort into the survive-and-thrive option when only 1 of every 8 Americans are considered metabolically healthy. What!?!
A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time — pills or stairs. — Joan Welsh
How many Americans are considered metabolically fit?
Only 12.2% of Americans are considered metabolically fit, according to data analyzed from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016 . Metabolic health was defined as “meeting established parameters related to waist circumference, fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1, blood pressure, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and not taking any related medication.” These factors are considered primary conditions leading to chronic conditions and diseases.
Practically speaking, being fit means that you are less likely to suffer from the “diseases of lifestyle” that currently plague our nation. According to researcher FW Booth et al., “physical activity primarily prevents, or delays, chronic diseases, implying that chronic disease need not be an inevitable outcome during life” . The authors listed 35 chronic conditions positively affected by exercise and physical activity in their article entitled “Lack of Exercise is A Major Cause of Chronic Diseases.” The entire list is available as Appendix I at the end of this article.
“Big picture” fitness training and exercise should be designed and executed for disease prevention with the goal of high-level wellness. You shouldn’t be doing it just for looks, but… that doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish both simultaneously. Physical improvements, a welcome consequence while training for health, are related to the anti-aging side effect of exercise on the body.
Training for health with a biological perspective will prepare you to fine-tune and super-charge your physical activity and exercise programs, resulting in greater gains and results. With the right plan you can survive, thrive, and look better at the beach. Future articles will be dedicated to showing you how.
In the next article, we will explore fitness lessons from our ancestors and explain why mimicking their movement patterns is the best way to enhance modern-day fitness.
- Araújo J, Cai J, Stevens J. Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2019 Feb;17(1):46-52.
- Booth FW, Roberts CK, Laye MJ. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Compr Physiol. 2012;2(2):1143–1211.
35 Chronic Conditions Positively Affected by Exercise and Physical Activity
Accelerated biological aging/premature death, low cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max), sarcopenia, metabolic syndrome, obesity, insulin resistance, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease, peripheral artery disease, hypertension, stroke, congestive heart failure, endothelial dysfunction, arterial dyslipidemia, hemostasis, deep vein thrombosis, cognitive dysfunction, depression and anxiety, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, balance, bone fracture/falls, rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, polycystic ovary syndrome, erectile dysfunction, pain, diverticulitis, constipation, and gallbladder diseases .
Wayne Coolidge, Jr., M.Ed., CHES is an author, speaker, and innovative Health Promotion Scholar-Practitioner. He owns Wayne Coolidge Health Promotion, a consulting firm specializing in healthy aging, nutrition, nutritional supplementation, fat loss, fitness, and disease prevention. His expertise is designing lifestyle-optimization strategies leading to positive genetic expression, controlled cellular aging, health, and wellness. He has accumulated more than 31,000 hours of one-on-one training and personal consultation experience over a 37-year career. Wayne’s web site www.waynecoolidge.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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