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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. Athletes reach a very high level of fitness. And people who take brisk half-hour walks every day reach a good level of fitness. Even people who can't do that much can work toward some level of fitness that helps them feel better and have more energy.

This topic focuses on health-related fitness, which helps you feel your best and lowers your risk for certain diseases. Making small changes in your daily lifestyle helps you improve your fitness.

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 (ages 6 to 17) to do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.

One way to know how hard you should exercise is to find your target heart rate. Being active within the range of your target heart rate not only helps you keep your heart and lungs healthy but also helps you get or stay fit. As a guideline, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?Click here to see an interactive tool.. Learn to take your pulseClick here to see an illustration..

Here's another way you can tell if an activity or exercise is making you work hard enough to count as moderate activity. If you can't talk while you do it, you're working too hard. You're at the right level 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 (endurance) means increasing how well your body uses oxygen. This depends on the condition of your heart, lungs, and muscles. Any activity that makes your heart beat faster, such as walking or running, can improve aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is sometimes called "cardio." "Cardio" is short for "cardiovascular training," which is any exercise—including jogging, cycling, or swimming—that makes your heart work harder for a while.
  • 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, just like brushing your teeth or going to work.
    • Use the stairs more often.
    • Walk to do errands near home.
    • Bike to work at least once a week.
  • Start walking. Walking is a great fitness activity. To keep up a routine, you can walk with family members, friends, coworkers, or pets. Keeping track of your steps with a step counter or pedometer can help motivate you to walk more.
  • Schedule your activity for times that you're likely to keep doing it. If you don't have time for one 30-minute walk, break it up into three 10-minute walks.
  • Find a partner. This can make exercising more fun.
  • Consider joining a health club or visit a community center if that will help you make activity a part of your routine.
  • 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.
  • Set small, realistic goals to improve your fitness. Write them down and keep track of your activityClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?). Reward yourself each time you reach a goal.

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:

Getting fit:

Staying fit:

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