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What does Fitness Really Mean?

It’s easy to look at someone and think, “They’re fit,” or “They’re out of shape,” but what does fitness really mean? Overall fitness should be assessed in four key areas: muscular strength, aerobic fitness, body composition, and flexibility. You can do a pretty accurate assessment of how fit you are with the help of a stopwatch, a measuring tape, a yardstick, tape, pencil and paper, and a helper.

To test your muscular strength, you can do push-ups, either modified push-ups that you do balanced on your hands and knees, or full push-ups balanced on hands and toes. Whichever kind of push-ups you do, start from the floor, and count one push-up as pushing up and lowering back down. Do as many push-ups as you can, until you feel the need to stop and rest, and record how many you can do.

Testing your aerobic fitness is easy, involving only a brisk, mile walk (one mile = 1.6 km). Check your pulse rate before and after your walk and record them. You can check your pulse either over your carotid artery or your wrist. Feel your pulse and count how many times your heart beats over a 10 second interval. Multiply by 6 and you’ll get your heart rate in beats per minute. So if you feel 12 beats in 10 seconds, your heart rate is 12 x 6 = 72 beats per minute. Normal resting heart rates generally range from 60 to 100 beats per minute

You can evaluate your body composition with two measurements: your waist measurement and your body mass index, or BMI. You should measure your waist with a tape measure at its smallest point, which is usually around or slightly above your navel. A healthy waist measurement is generally defined as less than 32 inches for women and less than 36 inches for men.

Body Mass Index is a slightly more involved computation. The easiest way to do it is to use an online BMI calculator where you input your height in inches and your weight in pounds.

If you want to do the math yourself, here goes: square your height in inches. Then divide your weight in pounds by this number. Multiply the result by 703. A healthy BMI is within the range of 18.5 to 25.

The flexibility of your back, hips, and legs is simple to measure. Take your yardstick and put a piece of tape across the 15 inch mark. Sit on the floor and place the yardstick on the floor parallel to your legs, with the bottoms of your feet at the tape mark. Have a helper gently hold your knees down while you reach forward as far as you can. Record how many inches forward you are able to reach forward. You may want to try it two or three times, because you’ll limber up a bit each time. Anywhere from half an inch past the tape mark to 4 inches is considered average.

Fitness should be a personal measure, since people’s bodies vary. Your individual measure of fitness should be made against a baseline measurement and reassessed at regular intervals (every 2 weeks or so) during your fitness program as a measure of your progress.