Sure, you hear and see it everywhere: it’s important to get fit and then stay in shape, but you don’t exactly know why. Many people aim to get physically fit for aesthetics—going up or down a size, looking thinner or more muscular—but it’s about more than that. Some people are naturally inclined to be physically active, with regular activity like sports or morning sessions at a gym. Many more people find themselves in a daily struggle to hit the running tracks or weights room for even just a fraction of the recommended 2.5 hours per week of physical activity by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
So what does it mean to be physically fit? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, it’s “a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity.” Our bodies respond to physical activity in a way that benefits our different systems: musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine. The health benefits are endless: a lowered risk of premature death, coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. On an everyday basis, when you get moving regularly, you’re at a lower risk of depression and anxiety, and you’re more likely to be in a good mood, and will be more able to perform daily tasks with ease throughout your life. Here’s what happens when you get physically fit:
Specifically, your cardiovascular health improves, and your heart gets more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body. You gain higher endurance, meaning your body is more capable of performing active movements like walking, running, climbing stairs, and the like.
When your heart is healthy, your lungs get better at distributing and using oxygen. As this improves, your endurance continues to increase and contribute to overall better health—respiratory fitness helps prevent heart disease, lung cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases.
The more you use your muscles, the stronger they get. When you have sufficient muscle, you gain physical strength and are more able to do things that require power—whether it’s heavy lifting or something as simple as maintaining good posture and balance for daily tasks.
According to the CDC, lower levels of physical activity contribute greatly to the accumulation of body fat and eventual predisposition to obesity. However, maintaining regular physical activity helps keep this in check.
Getting your heart pumping and putting in a regular sweat session releases endorphins, which improves mood, reduces anxiety and stress, and according to some studies, may even prevent depression.
Whatever your motivation is—to lose weight, gain muscle, or just get active—if you haven’t started a physical regimen yet, now is a great time. Fitness isn’t about weight loss or aesthetics. It’s about helping your body stay healthy enough to perform its functions well, and giving yourself a better quality of life in the long run. It means being able to do daily tasks and things you enjoy for as long as you can, without being hindered by health issues.