Skip Navigation

Small Steps to Staying Fit and Healthy

October 2010

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Regular physical activity is important for your overall health and well-being. Every small step makes a difference. Each day include activities that you enjoy and can easily fit into your daily routine such as walking your dog, working in your garden, or riding your bike. Try to do something every day to stay fit and healthy.

Being active for 30-60 minutes on most days can help build a healthy body so you have the strength to perform everyday activities without feeling tired. Staying fit will also help you to relax and reduce your stress, gain more energy, and improve your sleep. These benefits all add up to decreasing your risk of heart disease and other medical conditions such as colon cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.

There are two types of fitness:

Performance-related fitness is linked to athletic performance (for example: a 50-yeard dash time or the ability to maneuver around obstacles quickly) and includes speed, reaction time, and coordination.

Health-related fitnessis linked to fitness components that may lower health risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or lower back pain. Health-related physical fitness includes the following components:

  • Aerobic fitness – ability of the heart and lungs to deliver blood to muscles,
  • Muscular strength and endurance – enough to do normal activities easily and protect the lower back,
  • Flexibility – ability to move your muscles and joints through their proper range of motion, and
  • Body composition – not too much body fat, especially around the waist.

How do you rate on a self-assessment of your fitness level?
Use the Pre-participation Screening Questionnaire (self-assessment) provided by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine to figure out if you are high or low risk for medical problems like a heart attack when following vigorous daily exercises. This self assessment is for people aged 18 and older who are in good health. By completing this questionnaire, you can decide if it is safe to follow an aerobic fitness program that includes muscular strength, flexibility, and endurance exercises. To self-assess, go to the President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test and complete the online questions.

Remember the adage “use it or lose it” says it all. For example, by not using your muscles, you will lose strength in your arms and legs. You can improve your level of fitness by changing the amount, time, intensity and types of exercises you engage in daily. Remember the FITT principle:

F (Frequency) The number of times you do an exercise each week. (For example, I walk 7 days a week; I lift weights 3 times a week).

I (Intensity) The amount of weight lifted, the speed of your movement, or the effort exerted during exercise. (For example, I walk at 3.5 miles per hour; I lift weights that are 70% of the maximum I can lift).

T (Time) The amount of time of each exercise session. (For example, I walk for 30 minutes; I lift weights 10 times with a 1-minute rest at the end and repeat that repetition twice).

T (Type) The kind of exercise you are doing. (For example, I am biking rather than walking, or lifting weights rather than doing push-ups).

Remember, a variety of exercises are necessary to keep the body healthy.

Source: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans