One concept that has become quite significant in recent times is that of "fitness". It appears to be the sum total of many factors blended into one central-qualitative condition which is more than mere "well-being". These factors are mostly physical and correspond to precise capabilities of the body such as cardiovascular endurance,1 muscular strength and endurance,2 flexibility3 and body composition4 (rapport between lean body masse and fat mass in the body). When all these components of physical fitness are positive in a person, that person is declared fit, a physical state which usually also brings along a feeling of well-being and energetic youthfulness.
Modem human beings, everywhere in the world, are becoming more and more preoccupied with their bodies. Lot of resources and energy are spent to try to make the body as beautiful and youthful as possible. Modem societies, particularly in the West but it is gaining ground every where, give a growing importance to physical appearance. It is an ambiguous development as it too often leads to an obsessive and superficial preoccupation with only appearance and there is a risk that the crucial sense of wholeness of the being is lost. At the same time, the multiplication of experiments and researches towards the best ways to develop, beautify and strengthen the human body is likely to have a positive impact for the future of the human race, for its beauty and longevity.
Literature on fitness and related subjects is very vast and growing by the day. There are of course many faddist and misleading books on these subjects which often peddle so-called miraculous methods for body transformation, some of which are indeed dangerous, but it is also not so difficult to find good books with sensible advices on exercises, diet, etc. Our purpose here is not to go into any detail of particular methods but to briefly present a few commonly recognized points about fitness.
The first and—we believe—the most important is about exercise: human beings are yet animals and they are meant to move. Lack of exercise is probably the greatest negative factor with regard to fitness.
Recent studies have proved that whoever exercises is likely to live longer that a sedentary person. Fat or even nearly obese people who exercise are often fitter than lean sedentary people. So exercise is crucial to fitness. Of course, if one aims at being very fit in all categories as described above, it would mean a lot of exercise on a daily basis. But for basic health, longevity and reasonable fitness, moderate exercise is enough, provided it is regular (minimum of three times a week) and sufficiently durable (between half an hour and one hour depending of the intensity of the exercise). Beyond these very basic notions there are many variations, types of exercises (aerobic or anaerobic exercises, strength exercises, flexibility exercises, etc.). It is for each person to find what is most suitable to his or her temperament, life circumstances, environment, age, body condition, etc. but exercise is a must to attain a reasonable level of fitness.
The second most important factor is of course diet. Top athletes know this very well and their diet is usually very much controlled particularly when they take part in competition. Physical fitness depends to a great extent on an appropriate diet, which will vary from individual to individual, but also according to climate, cultural background, habits, etc., yet there seems to exist by far and large a consensus among most nutritional experts about a few basic principles of what constitutes a good diet. First of all, food should be wholesome, as natural, varied and fresh as possible, not refined in ways that eliminate the nutritious elements, with a good balance between cooked food and raw food. Fruits, vegetables and whole cereals and grains should form the main part of the diet to which can be added in moderation by non-vegetarians fish, eggs and lean meat or poultry. Fat and sugar intake should be moderate.
Relaxation and rest are other factors the importance of which should not be underestimated in the quest for fitness. Stress can make people sick, therefore the ability to generally maintain a relaxed and positive attitude in life must surely contribute to fitness. Similarly, good sleep is crucial for a balanced life but, unfortunately, sleep deprivation is a growing menace in our fast modem societies, particularly with children whose appetite for television conflicts with their often heavy school schedules.
We have only indicated the most obvious steps in the search for fit ness. Ultimately, it is for each one to find his or her own way towards this profound harmony in which body and mind beautifully support each other to reach higher and higher levels of accomplishment.
Cardiovascular endurance: It is defined as the ability of heart, lungs and blood vessels to provide enough oxygen and nutrients to allow sustained exercise.
Muscular strength and endurance: The capacity of muscles to generate force and sustain the effort.
Flexibility: The ability of joints to move freely and with the fall range of motion.
Body composition: The proportion between lean body mass and fat mass. (Women's bodies have a greater proportion of fat than men's. Levels from. 19 to 24% fat mass for women depending on their age are considered good whereas it would be 7 to 16% for men.)