Components of fitness: What are they?

Written by Exercise Scientist Hannah Torres

Why Being Physically Fit Is More Important Than Ever

It is hardly news to anyone these days that physical fitness is important. We all know that we need to prioritise fitness. It improves our health and reduces the risk of developing many diseases. The Australian Government Department of Health (1) suggests physical activity should occur on most, if not all, days of the week. It is recommended to engage in either 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.
Knowing that exercise benefits us is not the same as understanding what fitness is and how each person can determine their individual level of fitness. Once you determine what is considered fit for your body, then you can craft a plan to stay healthy.

What Is the Importance of Fitness?

Fitness is important for more reasons than disease prevention. Engaging in a well-crafted fitness regimen has both immediate and long-term health benefits and improves the quality of life. Prioritising fitness will:

  • Help you manage your weight
  • Lower your blood cholesterol level
  • Reduce your risk for a heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Decrease your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes
  • Help lower your blood pressure
  • Improve the strength of your muscles, bones, and joints to prevent injuries and falls
  • Boost your mood
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Help you achieve better sleep

In addition to the obvious physical benefits of being fit, studies show amazing results on an individual’s state of mind when they engage in regular exercise (2). Approximately 1 million Australian adults suffer from depression each year, with 2 million experiencing anxiety (3). High-intensity exercise releases endorphins in the body that mimic a feeling of elation. Engaging in low-intensity exercise regularly prompts our bodies to release neurotrophic proteins that direct nerve cells to grow and make new connections. These new connections improve brain function, which in turn improves our mood. While being fit may not be enough to curb depression on its own, it certainly contributes to an effective treatment plan.

What Is the Purpose of Fitness?

Some people work on fitness with the sole purpose of improving their physical appearance. When people feel better about their physical appearance, it boosts their overall self-confidence (4). But fitness is about more than looking and feeling good.
Losing weight and looking great are excellent motivators, but the purpose of fitness is to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

The health benefits of fitness include:

  • Decreased body fat
  • Increased muscular strength
  • Increased bone density
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Reduced stress and anxiety

Additionally, when we make fitness with others a priority, we increase our opportunity for social engagement. Committing to fitness with others is also a great motivator to stick with our fitness regimen.

What Is the Concept of Fitness?

When we talk about the concept of fitness, it is a reference to individual fitness. Physical fitness is generally understood to mean that a person possesses a certain set of attributes that allows them to perform physical activity. It means more than being able to lift 20 pounds or running a marathon. Those are just one aspect of overall fitness.
To meet the full definition of fitness, a person must be able to meet the five components of fitness. Read on to learn more about the five components and how they affect overall fitness.

What Are the Main Components of Fitness?

There are five main components of fitness. These components were established by the American College of Sports Medicine and serve as its blueprint for setting physical activity guidelines. Creating guidelines for yourself is an important step in achieving physical fitness. An organised, well-balanced routine is the key to getting into the best physical shape of your life and staying there.

The five main components of fitness are:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Muscular Strength
  • Muscular Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body Composition

A well-crafted fitness plan should contain all five components. We will discuss each of the five components in detail and provide resources to help you incorporate each of them into your fitness plan.

Cardiovascular Endurance

When it comes to fitness, a lot of emphasis is placed on cardiovascular health. It makes sense as the heart is an important organ in the human body (5). It is responsible for the steady distribution of blood to every part of the body, carrying oxygen, fuel, hormones, and an assortment of compounds with it. It also filters out the waste produced during metabolism. If your heart stops, most essential bodily functions fail with it.

The cardiovascular system also includes the lungs, arteries, vessels, and veins. They work together to keep our bodies functioning at optimum levels. For this reason, cardiovascular endurance is one of the five main components of fitness.
It is important to build and maintain your heart health by engaging in regular exercise that presents a challenge to the heart and lungs.

When we push our cardiovascular system, we:

  • Enhance our cellular metabolism
  • Improve the delivery and uptake of oxygen throughout the body

The recommendation for cardiovascular fitness is to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise weekly. There is no need to feel overwhelmed. When broken down into daily increments of 20 to 30 minutes, it is more than possible to meet the recommended guidelines.

Muscular Strength

Muscles play an important role in our fitness level. There are two considerations when determining muscular fitness: strength and endurance.

Muscular strength is about more than how much weight a person can lift at the gym. Simply put, muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle produces with single maximal effort. Muscle strength is determined by the size of your muscle fibres and the ability of your nerves to activate those muscle fibres. There are roughly 650 named skeletal muscles in the human body (6). That is just skeletal muscles. There are billions of smooth muscle cells in the body, which are found in the organ systems of your body. There also is a cardiac muscle in your heart that helps it beat.
Muscular strength is specific to muscle groups. For instance, a person can have strong shoulders but weak hamstrings. Including a weight-lifting regimen that targets all muscle groups equally is the best way to improve muscular strength.

Muscular Endurance

When we think of the word endurance, what comes to mind? According to the dictionary, endurance is “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” It is a pretty accurate description of muscular endurance, which is the ability of a particular muscle group to continuously contract against a given resistance.
Muscular endurance involves the development of fatigue-resistant muscle groups. Since it is muscle-group specific, the degree to which a person develops muscular endurance is dependent on their overall health and fitness goals. For example, if you planned to enter a long-distance biking event, increasing muscle endurance in your legs and glutes is vital.

Flexibility

Joints in the human body are the connection point between two bones. Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint and is joint-specific. A person may have flexibility and range of motion in their hips but suffer from tight shoulders.
Flexibility is an important component of fitness. Lack of flexibility can affect our balance, coordination, and agility. When we maintain a range of motion in all major joints, we reduce our risk of injury.

There are specific types of exercise that can help a person increase their level of flexibility:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Pilates
  • Passive stretching
  • Isometric stretching

Stretching before and after a workout also is recommended for improving flexibility. Incorporating regular massage into your routine is a great way to address tight muscles and tissues that can restrict movement.

Body Composition

The body’s ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass is known as body composition. It is one of the most important components of fitness. High levels of fat mass produce negative health outcomes, such as a higher risk for heart disease or Type 2 Diabetes.

Before you can tackle the issue, you will need to determine your ratio, which cannot be done by using a regular weight scale. There are special scales that use bioelectrical impedance analysis to estimate the percentage of your body fat. Some professional trainers also can do body fat testing.

The recommended testing method for determining body composition is known as hydrostatic underwater weighing due to its accuracy (7). A person is first weighed on dry land. Then, a second weight is obtained by having the person sit on an underwater scale. People with high body fat composition have lighter underwater weights. The more fat their body contains, the less they will weigh underwater.

So what do you do if the results of your body composition testing reveal a less-than-acceptable level of body fat mass? There is no quick fix. A combination of diet and physical exercise is part of the overall solution (8). Building muscle is a great way to burn unwanted fat. So, in addition to cardiovascular exercise, it is important to include weight training in your fitness goals.

Sources:
1. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
3. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts
4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271708907_Body_Image_Satisfaction_Enhances_Self-Esteem
5. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D
6. https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/what-is-the-strongest-muscle-in-the-human-body/
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366261/
8. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/improve-body-composition#section3