Activity for Physical Fitness

This information is brought to you by many of the Australian nutrition professionals who regularly contribute to the Nutritionists Network ('Nut-Net'), a nutrition email discussion group.


If I want to maintain a fairly high level of 'all-round' physical fitness, what is an appropriate training program?


A training program that includes five or six days of exercise per week, with 20-30 minutes of vigorous activity on each training day, and with one or two days of rest and recovery, is ideal for the non-specialist sportsperson. A big problem with today's busy lifestyle is finding the time to train. Many people find that a fitness program is easier to maintain if fitness training is involved in the daily routine, and occurs at approximately the same time each day.


What are the types and intensities of training I should be doing for all round fitness?


Physical fitness has many components. For general fitness, the most important types of activities are aerobic training, strength training (also called 'resistance training') and flexibility exercises. A good exercise program will include all of these aspects of training and will also help to improve (or maintain) fitness levels, balance and good posture. If you are unsure of the best way to approach your fitness after reading the guidelines below, consult a qualified fitness leader or exercise physiologist at your local fitness gym or health club.


What is aerobic activity?


Aerobic activity is probably the most important component for general fitness and health. 'Aerobic fitness' can be defined as the ability to continue
to do fairly hard physical work (where the work may be any vigorous activity) over a prolonged period (eg, for 30 minutes or more). Aerobic exercise includes walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing and machine-based stair climbing (among many other activities). To improve aerobic fitness
it is appropriate to exercise vigorously for 20-30 minutes continuously, three to five times per week.


What about strength exercise?


The aim of strength exercises is to improve muscular strength and muscular endurance. Increasing strength and muscular endurance can be achieved at any age, from childhood to well past retirement age. The 'overload principle' is used to develop muscular strength and endurance. This means gradually increasing the work the muscle has to do, leading to a slow but steady improvement.
Strength and muscular endurance can be improved through weight training, or by using your body weight as the source of resistance (exercises such as push ups, dips, squats and crunches are appropriate) or, better still, with a combination of these. Initially, a program of 6-8 different exercises, targeting the major muscle groups of the body, is appropriate.

How can I improve my level of flexibility?

In addition to the potential for muscle wasting, inactivity results in a tendency for muscles to become less flexible, thus decreasing the 'range of motion' of joints as we age (i.e. the joints stiffen). Regular stretching exercises and full 'range of motion' activities (such as gently swinging the arms and 'high kicking') will reduce or delay the onset of inflexibility.
Stretching for flexibility is best done after completing your endurance or resistance training because the muscles are warm; as a result they will be able to be fully stretched. Long, slow stretches are recommended (hold for 20-30 seconds), with each stretch taken to the point where a slight discomfort is experienced. Each stretch should be followed by a short rest, and then repeated several times.


Are there any dangers associated with taking up a training program such as the one recommended here?


Provided that you are in reasonable physical shape, there is no reason not to take up exercise aimed at improving physical fitness. Your physical condition should be taken into account when determining the level of fitness you are aiming for as well as the time period in which you wish to 'get in top shape'.
A potential for injury exists when weight and flexibility training are conducted inappropriately. It is recommended that you obtain a suitable guide on how to perform such exercises with correct technique, or consult a qualified trainer at a gym or fitness club. Additional issues can arise with regard to training in hot weather, orthopaedic injury and ‘overtraining’


What is the best time of day for training?


There is no universally agreed 'best time' to train. If you have the luxury of being able to choose your training time, you can choose the time
that most suits you. It is appropriate to train before eating a meal (rather than soon after); otherwise there is no inherent advantage to training early in the morning as opposed to later in the afternoon or in the evening. Some athletes find that training hard late at night tends to keep them awake. There is a theoretical basis for this: hard training leads to production of adrenaline and other hormones that have a stimulating effect, making sleep difficult. However, the scientific evidence suggests that many people can train late in the evening and still sleep well.


Do I need to join a gym or fitness club?


All of the above forms of training can be done at home. Simple weight lifting equipment (such as barbells, dumbbells and weights) is relatively inexpensive, stationary bikes (or similar equipment for aerobic fitness) do not take up much room, and running simply requires shorts, a tee-shirt and running shoes. Callisthenics such as push-ups, sit-ups, dips, squats and crunches can be done without any equipment, as can stretching.
However, there is a burgeoning fitness industry, with people who are qualified to give individually-tailored advice on safe and effective
ways of improving fitness. It is also true that many people do not exercise (or quickly abandon an exercise program shortly after commencing one) because they suffer from a lack of motivation. Gyms and fitness clubs exist that provide expertise, motivation and personalised programs appropriate to the individual. So if you are lacking in motivation, or don’t have time to read up on how to safely perform weight training exercises, callisthenics and stretches, you may be better off joining a reputable fitness club.


What sort of diet should I be eating for peak fitness?


The 'fitness diet' is similar to that for good health generally, but with increased quantities of grain foods such as bread, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals (mainly for energy and B group vitamins). Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will provide your body with the additional vitamins and minerals it needs while you are staying or becoming fit.
Lean meat, eggs and/or fish are valuable for protein, B group vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium (and vegetarians should have plenty of 'meat alternatives' such as beans, soy products, lentils and nuts). Finally, low- or reduced-fat milk and milk products will provide extra calcium and phosphorus for improving bone strength.

Please see the attachments below for more information about activity for physical fitness.

Activity for Physical Fitness_Printable Short Summary.pdf129.89 KB
Activity for Physical Fitness_Printable Detailed Summary.pdf160.96 KB


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