As I see it, individuals view fitness in a very general and limiting way. Generally speaking, the goal of fitness is often to become thin, look good aesthetically, and to have strong muscles. Of course, not all people think this way, but I am speaking from my own experience and from what I see in society today. There seems to be more concern with how we look versus how well our body feels and functions. In order for our “total self” to become “fitness ready,” we must engage in all 5 of my elements of fitness.
The 5 Elements of Fitness
1. Breath: Clinical studies prove that oxygen, wellness, and life-span are totally dependent on proper breathing. Lung volume is a primary marker for how long you will live. Breathing supplies over 99% of your entire oxygen and energy supply. Poor breathing causes or worsens chronic maladies such as asthma, allergies, anxiety, fatigue, depression, headaches, heart conditions, high blood pressure, sleep loss, obesity, harmful stress, poor mental clarity plus hundreds of other lesser known but equally harmful conditions. ALL diseases are caused or worsened by poor breathing. The average person reaches peak respiratory function and lung capacity in their mid 20’s. Then they begin to loose respiratory capacity: between 10% and 27% for every decade of life! So, unless you are doing something to maintain or improve your breathing capacity, it will decline, and with it, your general health, your life expectancy, and for that matter, your spirit as well. Optimal breathing gets you more vitality and better quality of life. We also address food, exercise, internal cleansing, attitude, and environment but breathing is for many the most important part of getting and staying healthy. Begin with breathing. Better breathing is possible for anyone. Develop your breathing now.” Breathing is the FIRST place not the LAST place one should investigate when any disordered energy presents itself.” Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD Ph.D. , The Oxygen Breakthrough, Breathing fundamentals are critical. Just because one particular breathing exercise or development technique feels good does not mean it is the best choice. Many feel good at the outset of a certain exercise but that is largely because so many breathe so poorly that any progress feels significant, and it may well be. But each technique or exercise must be based in solid breathing fundamentals otherwise they can work against each other and cause future breathing development problems. Like a rocket ship even slightly off coarse, as the days and weeks pass you will travel further and further away from your goal of a long healthy, vibrant life. Knowing the fundamentals helps you stay on course.
2. Flexibility: Flexibility is the ability to move 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, back, hips, front and back of your thighs, and calves. Try to stretch for 10 to 12 minutes a day, after a brief warm-up. Do some stretches first thing in the morning, take a stretch break instead of a coffee break, or stretch in the office for a few minutes. Or participate in activities that include stretching, such as dance, martial arts (aikido or karate), tai chi, or yoga. Stretching also can be done as part of strength training and aerobic exercise. When you exercise, you repeatedly shorten your muscles. To counter this effect, you need to stretch slowly and regularly, which makes you more flexible. Combining it with other forms of fitness is an ideal way to practice flexibility fitness. When getting started with flexibility and stretching, begin slowly and increase your efforts gradually. You can measure your progress with flexibility by noticing how much farther you can do each stretch. Can you go farther with each stretch than you could when you started? If so, your flexibility is improving.
3. Emotions: Emotions serve as the source of human energy, authenticity and drive, and can offer us a wellspring of intuitive wisdom. Each feeling provides us with valuable feedback throughout the day. This feedback from the heart is what ignites creativity, keeps us honest with ourselves, guides trusting relationships, and provides the compass for our life and career. Emotional intelligence requires that we learn to acknowledge and understand feelings – in ourselves and others – and that we appropriately respond to them, creatively applying the energy of the emotions to our daily life, work and relationships. Emotional intelligence is demonstrated by tolerance, empathy and compassion for others; the ability to verbalize feelings accurately and with integrity; and the resilience to bounce back from emotional upsets. It is the ability to be a deeply feeling, authentic human being, no matter what life brings, no matter what challenges and opportunities we face. Emotional intelligence (EQ) may be even more important than IQ in one’s ability to achieve success and happiness. I may score well on tests and excel academically, but how well do I handle disappointment, anger, jealousy and fear, the problems of communication, and all the ups and downs of relationships? Persons with high EQ – who have developed emotional literacy – will have more confidence and trust in themselves, and more understanding of others and therefore empathy with them. So they will make better relationships and experience more achievement, love and joy in their life. They will be emotionally mature, a state that many adults do not achieve. If these skills were taught widely, in the home as well as at school, and amongst adults too of course, it would provide the basis of a much saner and happier world to live in. At its essence, a meaningful and successful life requires being attuned to what is on the inside, beneath the mental analyzes, the appearances and control, and beneath the rhetoric. It requires being attuned to the heart, the center of our emotions and outgoing reach to the world. Our heart activates our deepest values, transforming them from something we think about to what we actually do in our life. The heart is the place of courage and spirit, integrity and commitment – the source of energy and deep feelings that call us to create, learn, cooperate, lead and serve. When we have painful feelings, the heart is telling us we have unmet needs, or we are interpreting reality through some kind of distorting filter. When we have positive feelings, the heart is telling us we are pointing in the right direction, towards fulfillment of our needs and towards truth. Our Higher Self, the all-knowing part of us connected to all consciousness, communicates to our body-mind through this channel – not through verbal messages but through the heart. We just need to be open to receive this intuitive wisdom.
4. Cardiovascular: To stay healthy, adults should do at least 20 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise three times a week, according to joint research from Exeter and Brunel universities. Not only will good cardiovascular fitness reduce the risk of a stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes, it will improve your performance in most sports. Cardiovascular fitness refers to the ability of your heart, lungs and blood vessels (cardiovascular system) to carry oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, working muscles. Your resting heart rate (RHR) is a good indication of your overall cardiovascular fitness level. The lower it is, the more efficiently your heart is pumping blood around your body. Seventy beats per minute (BPM) is average for a healthy heart and to improve cardiovascular fitness you must train at 70-80% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Below, we examine four popular cardio exercises – running, swimming, cycling and rowing – explain how many calories they burn and which muscles they work. To determine your MHR, subtract your age from 220. If you are 40, your MHR would be 180 BPM. A heart rate monitor is useful for cardiovascular training, enabling you to exercise at the required output. Each session should include 5 to 10-minute warm-up and cool-down – both performed at 50-60% of MHR. It’s also vital to stretch all the muscles used in the activity.
5. Muscle Strength: Even if you have no intention of becoming an Olympic weight-lifter, there’s still reason to care about muscular fitness. It influences your ability to do everyday chores, like housework and yard work. It affects how easily you can carry a bag of groceries or lift a young child. It’s also at the core of physical skill and sports performance, affecting how hard you swing a softball bat or how long you last on the tennis court. Muscle-strengthening exercises are likely to improve your stamina and your energy. Equally important, they increase resistance to injury. People with strong muscles are less likely to suffer everyday muscle aches and pains. They also have less strain on their hearts. Resistance training. Building muscular fitness involves resistance training, progressively overloading your muscles so that they get stronger to meet the challenge. This can be done with exercises that use your body to exert force, like push-ups, chin-ups, and sit-ups. Commonly, people use weight training, also called weight lifting, to provide resistance. Strength gains come from resistance€”how much weight you lift. Endurance is achieved through repetition€”how many times you lift a weight in succession. Both are important to develop. Experts advise you to start any weight-training program with light weights and easy repetition. Start with a weight that you can lift comfortably eight to 12 times. Try to do a second set of each exercise after a break of a few minutes. Do at least one exercise for each muscle group, moving from the larger muscles (the legs) down to smaller ones (arms and biceps). Strength gains come when you work with close to the heaviest weight that you can lift comfortably. This is the overload principle. You’ll see the quickest benefits if you lift the maximum amount during fewer repetitions of each exercise. Using a weight that’s too heavy, however, can lead to injury. And if you’re interested in all-around conditioning, it’s best to start with low amounts and progress gradually.