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Physical Fitness

The importance of Physical Fitness

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First published: 11.Nov.2018

Health and Fitness

Wellness is the outcome of a healthy lifestyle that includes not only a balanced diet but also physical activity that helps you build Physical Fitness.

Being fit allows you to live a full, healthier, and independent life with a lower risk of chronic diseases and mortality.

Being physically fit is one of the best things that you can do right now to ensure a better quality of life today and for your older years.

This article uses scientific evidence to explains why it is good to be fit and answers questions such as: What are the components of fitness? What are the benefits of being fit? What is a fit person? and, what do you mean by being fit?

The Positive Feedback loop of well-being. Notice the key role of "Fitness."

Definition: The Components of Physical Fitness

Fitness is defined as "the quality or state of being fit."
Being fit means (1):
"(1): adapted to an end or design: suitable by nature or by art.
(2) : adapted to the environment so as to be capable of surviving
". Dictionary

And that is what fitness is all about: physical harmony, adaptability, being able to survive, live life well, in comfort, with better health.

Physical fitness consists of five basic components:

Types of Fitness

  1. Cardiorespiratory endurance
  2. Muscular strength
  3. Muscular endurance
  4. flexibility
  5. Body composition.

Some other factors that makeup fitness are your motor skills: balance, coordination, agility, speed, power, and reaction time.

Each of the Five Components of Fitness

  1. Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of your lungs and heart to intake and distribute the oxygen necessary for your metabolic functions during normal activities and during those that require an effort.
  2. Muscular strength is the force that a muscle group can apply.
  3. Muscular endurance is the ability to contract repeatedly or remain contracted for a given period. You need strength to lift objects, move them, pull and push, climb, run.
  4. Flexibility is how your joints, body, and limbs move gracefully and efficiently. Lack of flexibility can cause pain, discomfort, and increase the risk of injury.
  5. Body Composition refers to the fat and lean tissue components of your body. The "fat" makes up your "body fat" while the rest is known as "lean body mass" (muscle, internal organs, bones).
    To be fit means having the correct fat-to-lean-body-mass ratios. Too much fat is bad for your health, lack of muscle or muscle loss (which takes place as you age) also affects the quality of life.
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Some Definitions regarding exercise and fitness

Sometimes the terms "exercise", "physical activity" and "physical fitness" are taken as synonyms, but they aren't.

They are words that describe different concepts (2):

  • Physical activity is the bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that result in energy expenditure.
  • Exercise is the physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive to maintain physical fitness.
  • Physical Fitness are attributes (which we have described further up) that are related to skills and health.

But what are the benefits of being fit?

The Benefits of Being Fit

Being Fit Reduces Health Risks

You are aware that being overweight increases health risks and shortens lifespan. But when you include fitness in the equation, you will find some surprising results, as shown by Blair and Brodney in a study they conducted back in 1999 (3).

These scientists asked themselves if higher levels of physical activity reduced the health risk in obese or overweight individuals and how do "active" obese - overweight people compare to "inactive" normal-weight subjects.

They also wondered which was the most important predictor of mortality: being inactive or being overweight? This is what they found:

  • Being active and fit had a protective effect against the hazards of being overweight or obese (meaning that it lowered the risk for all leading causes of death - cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes- except cancer).
  • "This apparent protective effect was often stronger in obese individuals than in those of normal weight or who were overweight."
  • "Regular physical activity clearly attenuates many of the health risks associated with overweight or obesity."
  • "Active obese individuals actually have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight individuals who are sedentary."

This means that the answer to their first question was: Yes! Physical fitness protects "active" obese people, and their death rates are lower than that of "inactive" "thin" people.

Regarding their second question, both being overweight or obese and inactive or unfit are equally important as mortality predictors.

Take-home point

Physical fitness protects your heart and reduces mortality risk in comparison to being inactive or sedentary.

But weight loss also helps you to reduce your health risks.

A later study by Fogelholm (2010) (4) mirrors these findings:

The health risks caused by poor fitness -being physically inactive- are worse than those of being overweight:

People that are overweight (have a high Body Mass Index or BMI) yet have good aerobic fitness have a lower all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than individuals that have a normal weight but poor fitness.

But the fitness effect did not protect the overweight subjects from suffering from a greater risk for the incidence of type 2 diabetes and the prevalence of cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors, compared with normal BMI with low physical activity.

Sitting is bad for your health

Being fit means keeping physically active, building cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility, and also losing fat, and to do so you have to get up and begin to move.

Sitting is not good for your health even if you fulfill your weekly quota of physical activity as per the guidelines published by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

A study by Pesola, Pekkonen, and Finni (2016) (5) found that "excessive sitting [is] a health risk even if recommendations for physical activity are fulfilled."

The reasons for this seem to be the lack of muscular movement that increases insulin resistance affecting how fat is transported and oxidized in the muscles (and being active later cannot reverse this side-effect of sitting).

Fitness during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has provoked a high mortality rate and higher hospitalization levels among people with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and those who are overweight or obese.

Dwyer et al. (2020) (6) looked into the effect of physical activity and overall fitness as a way to help reduce susceptibility to the disease.

They conclude that "provided that social distancing is respected, PA [Physical Activity] is suggested during the COVID‐19 pandemic due to its multiple benefits on physical and mental health. Personalized training according to age, clinical conditions, and level of fitness is paramount; therefore, specific recommendations to address home‐based training during this time are highly needed."

Some more recent studies on the potential protective benefits of exercise against COVID-19 and mental health issues associated with it.

Take-home point

Follow the health authorities' guidelines on social distancing and the use of face masks and exercise!

It will improve your fitness and overall health, warding off depression, and improving your chances against COVID-19.

More Fitness resources on our website

We have included more webpages with plenty of information, advice, and tips on becoming fit, losing weight, and shaping up:

two women walking in the outdoors

Fitness: Guide to getting started

Getting Started with your fitness program: Prepare your physical activity plan and start today. Reach your exercise goals, keep motivated and inspired.


women jogging on treadmill

Get Fit & Lean

Tips to exercise more, lose weight, and get into shape. Fitness and exercise are as important as diet in your body weight control program. Feel fitter, leaner, and healthier.


silhouette of a runner with force vectors

The Science behind Exercise

Science and exercise: the proof, facts & studies behind the benefits of physical activity. Scientific information about exercising, getting fit, and its health benefits.


References and Further Reading

(1) Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Fit. Accessed 22 Nov. 2020.

(2) Caspersen CJ, Powell KE, Christenson GM., (1985). Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research, Public Health Rep. 1985 Mar-Apr;100(2):126-31

(3) Blair SN & Brodney S., (1999). Effects of physical inactivity and obesity on morbidity and mortality: current evidence and research issues, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Nov;31(11 Suppl): S646-62.

(4) Fogelholm M., (2010). Physical activity, fitness and fatness: relations to mortality, morbidity and disease risk factors. A systematic review, Obes Rev. 2010 Mar;11(3):202-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2009.00653.x. Epub 2009 Sep 9

(5) Pesola AJ, Pekkonen M, Finni T., (2016). Why is excessive sitting a health risk? Duodecim. 2016;132(21):1964-71

(6) Dwyer, M. J., Pasini, M., De Dominicis, S., & Righi, E. (2020). Physical activity: Benefits and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(7), 1291–1294.

About this Article

The Benefits of Fitness, A. Whittall

©2018, 15 Nov. 2018. Updated. 22 Nov. 2020.

Tags: fitness benefits, getting fit, fitness, get fit, getting into shape, lean, exercise, physical activity, COVID-19.

This Webpage

Subject: Fitness. Muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, cardio endurance, and body composition (more muscle and less fat) give you balance, strength, power, speed, and most importantly, improve your quality of life and overall health.

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