Six Things You Didn't Know About "Fitness"
By Erick Minor
1.) Health and Fitness are not interchangeable terms
A healthy person is someone who is free of disease and chronic ailments. A fit person is someone who can perform physical tasks well above a resting threshold. Fitness does not guarantee health, and some physical activities can increase fitness and at the same time deteriorate health. The health promoting benefits of exercise has a cap; a super fit athlete who trains 8-12 hours/week is not healthier than a disease-free and lean exercise enthusiast who trains 3-5 hours/week; the athlete just has a higher level of fitness.Training must be organized in order to obtain your goals, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will be healthier by training 6 days/week vs 3-4 days/week.
2.) Health is not the domain of any one method of exercise
A common question for those who use weight training as their primary form of exercise is this; “you lift weights but what do you do for cardio?” In essence, they are asking “yeah, you're all strong, but what do you do for your health?”. This seems like a logical question to the laymen, but the questions doesn't even make sense when based on physiology and science. Health depends on how well your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and metabolic systems function, not on what mode of exercise you perform. Exercise of almost any flavor will improves health due to the secondary effects of lowering blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity. Any physical activity that meets a minimum threshold of difficulty will improve health parameters if performed regularly. The heart and lungs serve the demands of the muscle tissue regardless of the type of activity. So the concept of doing "cardio" for your "heart" is flawed and outdated.
3.) Strength and endurance reside within the muscle
Training has limited benefit to the heart and lungs; the primary improvements occur in the muscle cells. Fitness is specific to the muscles used during the activity in which you perform. Your capacity to perform work depends on the level of adaptation within those specific muscles. The more strength and endurance you have in your quadriceps, the greater your work capacity during activities involving the legs.
To illustrate my point, take the following study performed in 1976. Researchers had thirteen subjects train only one leg on a stationary bike for 4 weeks. Prior to initiating the study, tests were performed on both legs to get a baseline VO2 max. After 4 weeks of training, the subjects did improve VO2 max performance, but only on the trained leg. When VO2 max was tested on the untrained leg(control leg), there was no improvement. VO2 max improvement occurred only within the muscles of the trained leg. Increased endurance and work capacity are a direct result of muscular adaptation; as a muscle gets stronger and increases in size and strength, VO2 max will improve in that tissue. The cardiovascular benefits of exercise are a result of peripheral adaptation (specific) as opposed to central adaptation (general).
4.) Cardiovascular conditioning is maximized with high-intensity exercise (strength training) and High Intensity Intervals
The heart and lungs are servants to the muscular system; the more mechanical work you perform the greater the adaptive response. The more concentrated the mechanical work, the greater the muscular adaptation (growth and strength) and cardiovascular benefits.
It is typically believed that lower intensity, steady-state activities such as jogging are the best way to enhance cardiovascular fitness. The truth is, the more mechanical work you do per unit of time, the greater the demand on the cardiovascular system.
Your cardiovascular system is working at its maximum level when you are recovering from a high intensity effort such a 200 meter sprint or a high intensity strength circuit. During this recovery, you are getting all the stimulation possible to the aerobic system.
5.) Muscle mass is directly correlated to immune function and survival rates during trauma
The ability to endure physical trauma depends on your level of muscle mass; your organs track one-to-one with muscle tissue. During life-threatening trauma, as you lose muscle tissue your organ function will decrease along with the loss of tissue. The more muscle you possess, the greater your chances of survival.
The amount of muscle tissue you maintain throughout life is also an indicator of your physiological age. Muscle tissue is the currency of youth; aging robs you of your vitality primarily due to the loss of muscle tissue and strength.
6.) There is no such thing as “Fittest Person on the Planet”; Fitness is specific to the activity
There is only “The Fittest participant of a specific sport or activity”. If you want to be a world class runner, you must run. If you want to win the “crossfit” games, you must become proficient at crossfit specific events. Trying to compare great athletes from separate sports is like comparing geniuses from different fields. Comparing a genius musician to a genius physicist is a useless comparison; the same can be said about comparing different athletes.
There are rare individuals, such as Leonardo da Vinci, who excel across several subjects, and in sports, athletes like Jim Thorpe. These individuals are the exceptions; their study habits or workout protocols had very little to do with their success.
I can say without reservation, regardless of how many events compose a competition, it does not make the winner the "fittest person on the planet" nor does acing several tests on various subjects make someone the "smartest" person on the planet.