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
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
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 teenagers who are fit may have more energy and better focus at
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
Improving your fitness is good for
your heart, lungs, bones, muscles, and joints. And it lowers your risk for falls, heart attack,
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,
stress better, and keep your mind sharp.
Experts say your goal should be at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous activity each week.footnote 3 It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. For example, you could:
Here's an easy way to tell if your exercise is moderate: You're at a moderate level of activity if you can talk but not sing during the activity. If you can't talk while you're doing the activity, you're working too hard.
Children need more activity. Encourage your child (ages 5 to 17) to do
moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.footnote 1, footnote 2
The activities you choose depend on which kind of fitness you want to
improve. There are three different kinds of fitness:
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
One Woman's Story:
"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
Read more about Kris and how she has worked physical activity into her life.
Learning about fitness:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
No matter what your
size or shape, being active:
Fitness benefits everyone. Learn about fitness in children and teenagers, in older adults, and during pregnancy.
The more active you are, the better your heart
and lungs work. You're less likely to get many of the diseases that can shorten your
If you already have any of these problems,
staying active may help you to have better control over them, feel better, and
Being fit includes keeping your
muscles, bones, and joints as active and healthy as possible. You can:
Being more active burns calories.
That can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. Getting regular exercise:
To find out how many calories
you burn during different activities, use this
Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn?
One Man's Story:
"My doctor said, 'It's about time you
lose weight.' That's when I got my bike."—Bob
Read more about Bob and how he became more active.
The best thing about
being active and fit is a better quality of
life. You're able to do things you
enjoy for longer periods of time, like playing with
children, gardening, dancing, or walking.
You can be active by doing housework, mowing the lawn, walking, or joining a fitness class. It's important to be active in three areas: aerobic activity, muscle strength, and stretching.
Aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs work harder and builds up
your endurance. It gets more oxygen to your muscles, which allows
your muscles to work longer. Aerobic activities include walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
To get and stay healthy, experts say to do at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity each week.footnote 3
It's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes
or more throughout your day and week. Do what works best for you. For
example, you could do moderate activity for 45 minutes every other day. Or you could do 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a
Moderate activity causes your heart and lungs to work harder. Here's an easy way to
know if you're working hard enough to get the health benefits of
Another way to see how hard you exercise is
to find your
target heart rate. As a guideline, use the
Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate? and learn to take your pulse.
Building stronger muscles is an important part of overall health. When your muscles are
strong, you can carry heavy grocery bags more easily, pick up children without
feeling as much strain, or do more downhill ski runs before you
get too tired and have to stop.
Making your muscles stronger includes:
Experts advise people to do exercises to strengthen muscles at least 2 times a week. Be sure to work the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
Examples of resistance-training exercises include lifting weights, doing push-ups, or using elastic bands.
Flexibility means being able to move your
joints and muscles through their full range of motion.
As you become more flexible, you will find it easier to reach
things on high shelves, to look under a bed, or perhaps to tie your shoes. You
will also have a better sense of balance and coordination.
To stay flexible,
stretch all your major groups of muscles. These
include the muscles of your arms, your back,
your hips, the front and back of your
thighs, and your calves.
you get started with flexibility and stretching, begin slowly, and increase your
efforts bit by bit. You can measure your progress with
flexibility by noticing how much farther you can do each stretch. Can you
stretch farther each day than you
could when you started? If so, your flexibility is getting
Do your stretching and
flexibility exercises in addition to your aerobic and strength-building
you increase your activity, take a look
at where you are now. Ask yourself these questions:
If you need to make some lifestyle changes to become more
active, you'll have more success if you first change the way you think about
Making any kind of change in the way you live your daily life
is like being on a path. The path leads to success. Here are steps you can use to change a habit by setting goals:
"My mantra is 'Find a way to exercise.'
It has made all the difference in my life."—John
Read more about John and how he became more active.
Most people don't think about being active or inactive
as a habit. But it is. And habits are affected by many things, including our work
schedule, our home life, and our social life. When something becomes a habit,
we don't think about it much—we just do it, like brushing our
The key to staying active is to make fitness a habit—something that you just do.
It might take a long time for you to form a habit. So start small, and keep
doing an activity until you no longer think about it as something "extra" that you have
When you slip up, don't get mad at yourself or feel guilty. Figure out
what happened and how to keep it from happening again. Get right back into your
physical activity routine, and don't look back.
Many of the
good things about being active, such as having
more energy and being in a better mood, happen
soon after you become more active. But some of the most important health
benefits have to do with being active over many years. If you stop being
active, you lose the fitness you achieved. Being consistent makes the most
sense for your health.
To help make physical activity a long-term
When you have decided that you want to
get fit, you will want to plan a
physical activity routine. Although most people think of
classes and specific activities (such as jogging or tennis) as the way to
fitness, there are many ways you can work physical activity into your
realized that I had put myself on the back burner for too long and it was time
for me to make time for myself, even if it was just a few minutes a day. I wrote myself a note and taped it to my washroom mirror. It said, 'I
will take a 10-minute walk during my morning coffee break every day this week.' " —Shellie
Read more about Shellie and how she became more active.
Fitness classes or groups
provide a consistent approach to an activity. Local gyms, schools, and churches
may sponsor a regular fitness group. Teams also provide a consistent approach
to fitness but are more competitive. Many communities have physical activity
programs to help adults and children get fit. They often are found within
social agencies and schools.
Structured fitness has the advantage
Many people find an activity
they enjoy, and then they create their own fitness
program. Self-directed fitness gives you:
For this to be effective, you must set up a regular
schedule and stay with it.
You can use "everyday"
activities for fitness, as long as you do them regularly. This includes:
normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a
setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.
What are the things that might cause a
setback for you? If you have tried to make changes in your activity level
before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.
By thinking about these
barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with
them if they happen.
Here's one person's list of barriers to taking a brisk
30-minute walk every day, along with some possible solutions:
"I might be too busy."
"I might get bored."
"It might rain."
personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your barriers and backup plans.
It's never too
late to start getting active. You can benefit from physical activity even if you think of yourself
as "elderly" or you already have conditions such as arthritis or heart
disease. Being more active will help you feel better and may even
help you live longer.
If you haven't been
active for a long time, you may have no idea where to start. The important
thing is to take that first step—and make that first step a small one.
If you're an older adult and are starting activity, be sure to:
Physical activity is
good for your health, but you can hurt yourself if you don't do it
right. Always keep safety in mind.
Watch out for these injuries and
illnesses as you exercise:
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines For Children. Available online: http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP-InfoSheets-child-ENG.pdf.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines For Youth. Available online: http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP-InfoSheets-youth-ENG.pdf.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines For Adults. Available online: http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf. Accessed October 28, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2004). Strength training among adults aged 65 or older. MMWR, 53(2): 25–28.
Other Works Consulted
Ainsworth BE, et al. (2011). Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide. Columbia, SC: Prevention Research Center, Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. Available online: http://prevention.sph.sc.edu/tools/compendium.htm.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
American College of Sports Medicine (2006). Prevention of cold injuries during exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(11): 2012–2029.
American College of Sports Medicine (2007). Exertional heat illness during training and competition. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(3): 556–572.
American College of Sports Medicine, et al. (2009). Position stand: Exercise and physical activity for older adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 41(7): 1510–1530.
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Building muscular strength and endurance. Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 111–137. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Improving flexibility. Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 151–164. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Increasing cardiorespiratory endurance. Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 75–97. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Bravata DM, et al. (2007). Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. JAMA, 298(19): 2296–2304.
Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Council on School Health (2006, reaffirmed 2009). Active healthy living: Prevention of childhood obesity through increased physical activity. Pediatrics, 117(5): 1834–1842.
Gahagan S (2011). Overweight and obesity. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 179–188. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Haskell WL, et al. (2007). Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, 116(9): 1081–1093.
Murphy NA, et al. (2008, reaffirmed 2012). American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report: Promoting the participation of children with disabilities in sports, recreation, and physical activities. Pediatrics, 121(5): 1057–1061.
National Institute on Aging (2011). Exercise and Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide From the National Institute on Aging. Available online: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-physical-activity-your-everyday-guide-national-institute-aging-1.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2013). Heat: A major killer. Available online: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/heat/index.shtml.
Rice RG and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2008). Medical conditions affecting sports participation. Pediatrics, 121 (4): 841–848.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.
Williams MA, et al. (2007). Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: 2007 update: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Circulation, 116(5): 572–584.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineThomas M. Bailey, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerHeather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
Current as ofMay 27, 2016
Current as of:
May 27, 2016
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
& Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Heather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.