Defining Fitness in the context of holistic health

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Within the spectrum that defines alternative medicine and homeopathy, fitness is one of those fields that is slowly gaining traction as part of the holistic medical approach used by both homeopaths and naturopaths. The American Physical Therapy Association approaches fitness by looking at six key elements: Aerobic Capacity, Body Composition, Body Balance, Muscular Strength, Body Structure, Muscular Flexibility.

Fitness is defined by physical therapists as a state of optimal health in which the body’s systems are conditioned to withstand physical stress and operate without injury. Each of the six key elements plays an important role in total body fitness. These are outlined below:

AEROBIC CAPACITY

This deals with the body’s ability to transport oxygen via the cardiovascular system. This is usually improved by exercising at your target heart rate (60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate). Most people calculate this by using the following formula- (220 – age = maximum heart rate, then max heart rate x 60%= target heart rate). Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise per day is the recommended amount in the target heart rate range.

BODY COMPOSITION

This is the ratio of body fat to lean body mass. Ideal body fat varies from person to person, but the general ideal range is 10-15 percent of total body mass for males, and 15 to 22 percent for females. Athletes usually have much less body fat than these numbers! Don’t be discouraged if you gain a few pounds when you begin a fitness program- it just means you are increasing your muscle mass!

BODY BALANCE

Neurological testing evaluates the balance system controlled by your brain, inner ear, and sensory systems of the body. Even a minor balance problem can make you at risk for injury- especially in sports. If this is a problem, your physical therapist can give you some exercises to help improve your balance and total body performance.

MUSCULAR STRENGTH

Your muscles should not only be flexible, but they should be able to exert force and control movements. Strengthening should be selected to condition the muscles you will use to perform your activity of choice. For example, if you are a runner, your main strengthening focus would be your legs.

BODY STRUCTURE

This deals with the actual alignment of the body. Even a small imbalance in the way you stand may lead to injury over time. Generally, exercises are recommended to offset weak areas, and stretch out tight areas.

MUSCULAR FLEXIBILITY

Your muscles should be flexible to allow full pain-free range of motion of all your joints. Muscles should be able to lengthen without much effort to allow you to do all the activities of the day. A shortened or inflexible muscle is more susceptible to stress and injury, and should be addressed with your general fitness program.

There are several other factors that affect fitness in addition to those listed above. Smoking, poor nutrition, alcohol, caffeine, and a family health history that includes diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure will affect your general fitness. Some of these factors are controllable through change in habits, while some may require medication. These should all be considered when beginning a fitness program.

How do you get started?

Decide what activities you like to do and map out a plan to be able to do them several times a week. Consult a physical therapist that specializes in Orthopedic and sports physical therapy. Ask your therapist to give you a fitness evaluation to determine your current fitness level, and develop a plan to improve your present condition. You may emphasize one or two of the six elements of fitness in your program, but remember fitness is a total body approach! You should consult your physician prior to beginning a program.

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