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Fitness: Getting and Staying Active


Topic Overview

What is fitness?

Fitness means being able to perform physical activity. It also means having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. Getting more fit, even a little bit, can improve your health.

You don't have to be an athlete to be fit. A brisk half-hour walk every day can help you reach a good level of fitness. And if this is hard for you, you can work toward a level of fitness that helps you feel better and have more energy.

What are the benefits of fitness?

Fitness helps you feel better and have more energy for work and leisure time. You'll feel more able to do things like playing with your kids, gardening, dancing, or biking. Children and teens who are fit may have more energy and better focus at school.

When you stay active and fit, you burn more calories, even when you're at rest. Being fit lets you do more physical activity. And it lets you exercise harder without as much work. It can also help you manage your weight.

Improving your fitness is good for your heart, lungs, bones, muscles, and joints. And it lowers your risk for falls, heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. If you already have one or more of these problems, getting more fit may help you control other health problems and make you feel better.

Being more fit also can help you to sleep better, handle stress better, and keep your mind sharp.

How much physical activity do you need for health-related fitness?

Experts say your goal should be one, or a combination, of these:

  • Do some sort of moderate aerobic activity, like brisk walking, for at least 2½ hours each week. You can spread out these 150 minutes any way you like. For example, you could:
    • Take a half-hour walk 3 days a week, and on the other 4 days take a 15-minute walk.
    • Take a 45-minute walk every other day.
  • Or do more vigorous activities, like running, for at least 1¼ hours a week. This activity makes you breathe harder and have a much faster heartbeat than when you are resting. Again, you can spread out these 75 minutes any way you like. For example, you could:
    • Run for 25 minutes 3 times a week.
    • Run for 15 minutes 5 times a week.

Children need more activity. Encourage your child (age 6 to 17) to do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.

Here's an easy way to tell if your exercise is moderate: If you can't talk while you're doing the activity, you're working too hard. You're at a moderate level of activity if you can talk but not sing during the activity.

What types of physical activity improve fitness?

The activities you choose depend on which kind of fitness you want to improve. There are three different kinds of fitness:

  • Aerobic fitness makes your heart work harder for a while. Aerobic activities include walking, running, cycling, and swimming. Aerobic fitness is also called cardio or cardiovascular training.
  • Muscle fitness (strength) means building stronger muscles and increasing how long you can use them. Activities like weight lifting and push-ups can improve your muscular fitness.
  • Flexibility is the ability to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. StretchingClick here to see an illustration. is an exercise that helps you to be more flexible.

How can you be more physically active?

Moderate physical activity is safe for most people. But it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before becoming more active, especially if you haven't been very active or have health problems.

If you're ready to add more physical activity to your life, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make physical activity part of your regular day. Make a regular habit of using stairs, not elevators, and walking to do errands near your home.
  • Start walking. Walking is a great fitness activity that most people can start doing. Make it a habit to take a daily walk with family members, friends, coworkers, or pets.
  • Find an activity partner. This can make exercising more fun.
  • Find an activity that you enjoy, and stay with it. Vary it with other activities so you don't get bored.
  • Use the Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn?Click here to see an interactive tool. to find out how many calories you burn during exercise and daily activities.

Picture of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Kris, 56

"I knew I needed to do something. I felt like all my muscles were starting to atrophy. Now I feel like I'm so much more toned. I'm not buff, but I'm toned. I can definitely feel the difference."—Kris

Read more about Kris and how she has worked physical activity into her life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about fitness:

  • How can fitness help me?
  • Is my weight putting my health at risk?Click here to see an interactive tool.
  • Can I be active when I have a health problem?

Getting fit:

  • Click here to view an Actionset.How do I get more active?
  • Click here to view an Actionset.How do I start a walking program?
  • Click here to view an Actionset.How do I use a pedometer or step counter?
  • Click here to view an Actionset.How do I strengthen my "core"?
  • How many calories do I burn during exercise?Click here to see an interactive tool.
  • What is my target heart rate?Click here to see an interactive tool.
  • What can older adults do to get fit?
  • What can children and teens do to get fit?
  • How can I fit physical activity into my busy day?
  • How can I get active at home?
  • How can I help my overweight child?
  • Do I need heart tests?

Staying fit:

  • Click here to view an Actionset.How can I make fitness a habit?
  • Click here to view an Actionset.How do I find time for fitness when I have young children?
  • How do I make sure I don't hurt myself?
  • How can I stay active when I travel?
  • How can I find the energy to stay active?
  • How can I stay active in hot weather?
  • How can I stay active in cold weather?
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