You and your health

Understanding physical fitness and weight control

By James D. Lomax
Posted 8/5/21

Because of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, people are returning to normal daily activities. During those months of confinement, working from home with restricted physical activity, many people …

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You and your health

Understanding physical fitness and weight control

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Because of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, people are returning to normal daily activities. During those months of confinement, working from home with restricted physical activity, many people gained weight and became less physically fit. People are returning to the gym to restart exercise programs. Others have started walking more now that the weather is warmer.
It is important to understand the research about maintaining physical fitness, how it influences weight control, and its relationship to an improved health status. Definitions are helpful to highlight each area.

Excellent physical fitness is defined as the following:

  • The ability of your heart and lungs to supply oxygen during sustained physical activity.
  •  Muscle endurance and strength to perform activities without fatigue and with the force needed to do the job.
  • Healthy body composition, which is determined by the relative amount of body fat, muscle, bone mass, and flexibility.

When describing normal weight, the term body mass index (BMI) is often used. It is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can indicate probable high body fat. BMI defines weight categories that may lead to health problems, but it does not diagnose the body fatness or health of an individual, nor does it predict if the person is physically fit. You can find your BMI by finding a BMI calculator online and entering your height, weight, and age.
There is a large body of medical research that describes the benefits of regular exercise and weight control. These benefits can include preventing and improving certain chronic health problems that can shorten lifespans as well as helping to prevent certain types of cancers—not to mention the high correlation between obesity and the severity of COVID-19.

How do you determine if you are fit?
The most common way that your physician can determine if your cardiovascular system is fit is by ordering an exercise fitness or stress test. You would be asked to walk, jog, or run on a treadmill. Your heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored. Irregular heart rhythms can be picked up with this testing along with possible coronary artery narrowing. This type of testing can also be done on a stationary exercise bike.
Regular exercise helps prevent or manage many health problems including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety and some types of cancer; it can also improve symptoms of arthritis. Other benefits of regular physical activity are reduced risk of heart attack; management of weight reduction; improved cholesterol profile; lower blood pressure; stronger bones, muscles and joints; and lower risk of osteoporosis and lower risk of falls.

What type of exercise program is appropriate for you?
If your goal is to lose pounds, shrink a waistline, improve some aspect of your health or gain strength or endurance, you need to set realistic goals. People often set goals that are unobtainable, potentially harmful, or inappropriate for what they are seeking.
There are many exercise programs listed on the internet, along with gyms that advertise their training programs. Before investing in any program, here are some suggestions to logically find an approach that is appropriate for you:

  1. Before launching into a strenuous exercise program, seek out an appointment with your private physician.
    A complete evaluation helps set guidelines on cardiovascular, pulmonary/breathing and orthopedic limits. Together with your doctor, initial goals can be established. As you progress, new goals can be added.
  2. Choose multiple activities that you have enjoyed in the past. Doing the same routine each day can become boring and uninteresting. Mix up the routine.
  3. When starting out, “go low (intensity) and slow” and increase the length of the exercise and the amount of weight or resistance. People become more motivated when they notice improvement or loss of weight. For older adults, the period to reach goals may take longer. It is important to not try so hard that you sustain physical injuries.
  4. Individuals can start by walking and participating in resistant exercises such as pool walking. A trainer can help with the selection of exercise machines and the amount of weight to use for resistance training.
  5. There are many diet plans. The bottom line is that losing weight from a diet requires reduced caloric intake. Reading labels and measuring the volume or weight of the food helps in determining the calories you are eating. More frequent, smaller meals are better than waiting to get hungry. Your doctor can determine the number of calories that you should take in so that you can lose weight at one to two pounds per week. Crash diets do not work long term.

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