by Trudy Despain
(last updated March 13, 2012)
Thousands of years from now when futuristic civilizations uncover the remains of our primitive existence one thing will be certain: we are obsessed with appearances. In 2010, the health and fitness industry enjoyed $25 billion dollars in revenue and, even with the economic downturn of recent years, the industry has seen growth. It all makes sense though. The unemployed workforce needs to look their best when interviewing for a new job so, why not exercise to strengthen your assets?
But with all this drive to be fit and healthy, what truly defines a healthy individual? Is it muscle mass? Body fat percentage? BMI? Athletic endurance? For the untrained eye, the appearance of health usually begins with the size of a person's waistline. Because of the urge from medical and fitness professionals to minimize our waistlines and avoid such maladies as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure (to name a few), we have become obsessed with the measurement of our waistline.
There is more to being fit than just being thin. In fact, there are generally five trademark indicators of a physically fit individual. They are: cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. Being fit in one area is good, but overall fitness in all five areas constitutes as well-rounded, physically fit individual whose body is equipped for the rigors of daily life and beyond.
Cardiovascular fitness relates to the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to working muscles. Someone like Lance Armstrong has an incredible cardiovascular system. At his peak of fitness he had a resting heart rate of 32 to 34 beats per minute. That's half an average person's resting heart rate. His heart only pumped half the time but delivered more oxygen with each gigantic gush of blood flow through his body. Lance Armstrong definitely qualifies as skinny but a skinny person can't qualify as Lance Armstrong-level fitness without some serious work. In fact, a skinny person who never works their cardiovascular system has the same cardiovascular fitness level as an obese person.
Muscle strength is the ability of a muscle to exert force. This one is a no brainer. A skinny person with no muscle strength doesn't have the fitness level of even a moderately athletic person. Think of all the times in a day when you need to rely on your muscles to complete a task. Activities like carrying in the groceries, vacuuming, mopping, even sitting at the computer while typing all require some amount of muscle strength in order to function properly and protect the surrounding joints.
Muscular endurance is the same idea as muscular strength except instead of sheer force, endurance relates to the number of times a muscle or group of muscles can work repetitively before getting tired. The same argument for muscle strength can be applied to muscular endurance. A skinny person isn't fit without the component of muscular endurance.
Flexibility relates to the range of motion available at a joint. Good flexibility protects a muscle from injuries like strains, sprains and tears. Flexibility in the upper and lower back can help prevent the all too common back pain that so many people live with.
And finally we come to body composition. Good health in this component of fitness can only be achieved by a body fat percentage of less than 31% for women and 24% for men. (These recommended percentages change as we age.) The skinny person will usually have a lower body fat percentage but it is possible to be skinny and have such low muscle mass that body fat percentage is higher than expected. Anorexic patients who have destroyed their lean muscle mass through fasting tend to retain body fat. Their bodies are working harder to trying and maintain some store of energy storage since it's in crisis mode.
Being skinny is not the ultimate definition of fitness. True fitness is the consequence of a concerted effort in each of the five areas of fitness.
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