Introduction to Fitness

The Dawn of Fitness!

By Shannon Clark, CPT

When you hear the word ‘fitness’, what comes to mind? Spending hours in the gym using the cardio machines or lifting weights? Or maybe you think about joining an aerobics class with 10-15 other people who are looking to improve their health? If your definition of fitness consists of only what I’ve already mentioned, it may be time to reconsider the full meaning of the word. Let’s take a closer look at fitness and get you rethinking your definition.

In ancient times, there were no motorized treadmills, elliptical machines, or exercise bikes. Nor were there any free weights or weight machines for that matter. But does that mean people were out of shape?

Of course not. Instead, fitness was a way of life - it was survival. Hunting prey, foraging, farming and maintaining a home meant that people were constantly moving throughout the day. Despite the fact that these individuals never had any structured workout routines, they rarely suffered from some of the health problems that we see in today’s world. They ate all-natural foods that came from the ground or wild and sustained a high total daily calorie burn. These two combined factors produced a fit and healthy body – one that was agile, strong, and lean.

Considering ‘Natural’ Fitness

Think about the natural fitness that occurs during our childhood years. A healthy, active child typically isn’t spending time on treadmills or in the gym lifting free weights. Instead, children are running and playing. They’re moving around but in manners that they enjoy. In fact, many young children will seek out physical activity if you let them. In some cases, it’s difficult to get them to stop moving around!

Then once they’re introduced to the sedentary ways of today’s world as they become teenagers with all the computer games and TV shows, they start adopting the habits that too often persist into adulthood. Their former play time is overtaken by time spent sitting on the couch; their only fitness-related activity might be when they attend school gym sessions.

Where We Are Today

This brings us to where we are today with our definition of ‘fitness’. For many people, going to the gym fully encompasses all the fitness we get in our life. We have desk jobs where we stay sedentary for 8 hours a day and have other demands of our time afterwards that don’t include getting out and getting active. Our evenings may also involve little activity, turning in for bed after sitting down to watch TV for a few hours while consuming high-calorie processed foods.

Is it any wonder that we’re experiencing the health problems we are today? The high-sugar foods we’re eating send a surge of insulin streaming through our veins, which then sucks all that excess sugar up and deposits it straight into our bodies’ fat stores. This will also cause an elevation in blood triglycerides to take place as well, setting us up for heart disease.

Some of us do go so far as to create structured workout programs in the gym, which is good, but this doesn’t get us mentally fit like non-gym activities do. Nor does it challenge our bodies in innovative ways. With gym activities, you’ll be performing the same repetitive motion time and time again, so there is little thought required to complete the activity. If you were to go out and play a game of soccer, for example, your mind must shift constantly and pay attention to what’s going on in the field. This added mental stimulation will not only improve your fitness while enhancing your mind-body coordination, but it will also keep you that much more interested in the workout as well. Think of our ancestors hunting for their meal, no two pursuits quite the same. While a few people do like to go into the gym and ‘zone out' as they find it relieves stress, most people need more than that.

Creating the Happy Medium

This brings us to our solution. To reap all the fitness benefits possible, you need to change your definition of fitness and think outside the box. Rather than strictly looking to the gym for workout sessions to perform, consider activities that you used to enjoy as a child or young teen but don’t make time for any longer. If you could perform any activity simply for enjoyment sake, what would it be? Once you have your answer to this question, this is what you want to start doing at least once per week.

You still should aim to have a structured workout program in place - especially one that includes some resistance training as this is imperative to preventing lean muscle mass loss and maintaining an elevated metabolic rate - but beyond that, don’t be scared to venture out of the gym into other activities. Team sports, solo activities, or even group-led activities can all help to bring about fitness gains and improve your health.

What are some of the health benefits of a regular fitness program, either in the gym or outside?

Physical Health Benefits

  • Reduced risk of disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower resting heart rate
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Increased bone density
  • Lower body weight and body fat level
  • Improved glucose tolerance
  • Enhanced insulin sensitivity
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Lower risk of injury
  • Decreased risk of lean muscle mass loss with age

Mental Benefits

  • Reduced stress level
  • Lower risk of developing depression
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Enhanced sleep quality
  • Improved self-confidence and body image

Appearance-Based Benefits

  • Firmer muscles with enhanced definition
  • Improved posture
  • Reduced appearance of body fat

There you have a brief introduction to fitness in a broader sense. Our conception of ‘fitness’ has definitely changed over time, and with the right mindset and attitude, you can bring a healthy form of fitness into your life.

Remember that fitness encompasses three main elements:

  1. Strength training
  2. Cardiovascular training
  3. Flexibility training

Getting each of these into your routine is important for balance. Strength can be achieved through traditional weight lifting programs or other bodyweight activities, while you can add cardiovascular fitness through any form of activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it there. Whenever you move a certain muscle through a longer range of motion than it’s used to, lengthening the muscle cells, you’re doing flexibility training.

Now that you have a basic foundational knowledge of what ‘fitness’ means, it’s time to put this information to use to come up with your own fitness plan!

Next Steps