What does it mean to be fit? Finding a discrete definition is somewhat difficult. According to the dictionary, fitness means: “the quality or state of being fit.” (The definition of “fit” is: “sound physically and mentally.”) If you find those words somewhat vague, you’re not alone.
And that’s sort of the point, according to exercise experts. Fitness doesn’t have to mean that you’re an ultra-marathoner or that you can perform one pull-up or one hundred. Fitness can mean different things to different people.
“For me, fitness is first and foremost about feeling good and being able to move without pain,” says the certified strength and conditioning specialist Grayson Wickham, a New YorkCity–based physical therapist and the founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company. He explains that true fitness is about feeling healthy and being insufficient shape to do the activities you want to do and live the lifestyle you want to live. Can you play with your kids or grandkids? If hiking the Inca Trail is on your bucket list, can you do it? Do you feel good after a day spent gardening? Are you able to climb all the necessary stairs in your life without getting winded or having to take a break?
Michael Jonesco, DO, an assistant professor of internal and sports medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, agrees. “Since medical school, I’ve learned that physical fitness is simply defined as your body’s ability to perform tasks. Nowadays, there are more tools available than ever for fitness enthusiasts to track, measure, and follow.”
For example, you’ve got body mass index (BMI), resting heart rate, body fat percentage, VO2 max, 5K or marathon personal records (PRs), 100-meter-dash times, and bench-press maxes, he says. “These are all objective measures we use to gauge progress (or measure ourselves against the guy or girl on the metaphorical squat rack or treadmill next to us).”
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But physical fitness should not solely be measured with any one of these or other tests or evaluations, he adds. It’s much more complex. You wouldn’t, for instance, use one factor (such as blood pressure) to measure someone’s overall health, Dr. Jonesco says. Blood pressure is a useful test to monitor for cardiovascular disease, but it doesn’t indicate whether or not someone has cancer or dementia.
“Physical fitness should be considered a balance of many of the aforementioned measures, but also many more intangible measures, too,” Jonesco explains, including “your outlook on not just your body, but your attitude toward your own health and wellness.”