How to Make the Most of Your Health and Fitness
Table of Contents
Oddly enough, majority of people seem to have so many misconceptions about health and fitness; for instance, not knowing the difference between the two. Yes, there’s a subtle difference between health and fitness, and if you’re also among the lot unaware of it as yet, it’s about to change right now.
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According to World Health Organization (WHO):
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines physical fitness as:
“The ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.”
Difference between health and fitness
This can help us conclude that health and fitness do not work in isolation. Your body fitness will pay the price if there’s some irregularity with your health and vice versa. To better understand this, let’s have a look at the major components of health and fitness first.
Definitely the most important of all aspects, your physical health covers everything from walking and running to dancing, swimming, engaging in sports or running through your daily chores.
It is critically imperative for overall well-being, also being the most visible one amongst various other dimensions of health including intellectual, spiritual, emotional and social health.
Some of the most certain and grave signs in deterioration of our health appear physically. This makes upkeep of your physical health a prime requisite in achieving and sustaining overall health and wellness.
Studies have also proven that taking care of your physical health leads to improved mood with reduced anxiety and depression. Regular exercise also boosts the natural production of serotonin and norepinephrine, hormones helpful in relieving depression and anxiety.
However, improving your physical health cannot be confined to hitting the gym a few days of the week only. There are numerous other factors that contribute in ensuring optimal physical health, such as appropriate nutrition, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and a healthy sleep routine.
Your cognitive health reflects your ability to think, understand, learn and retain information. Cognitive health complements your physical health and vice versa. The great thing is that daily exercise is known to take care of your mental health just as well as it augments your physical health.
With your brain experiencing the effects of aging much like all other muscle groups in your body, increased age is often related to declining cognitive function. Yet, while memory and various other aspects of the mind may diminish with passing years, certain others like knowledge and wisdom may amplify.
Researchers strongly believe that regular exercise can play a vital role in alleviating mental health issues like depression. For instance, according to NHS, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends about 3 sessions a week of mild to moderate exercise (spanning anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour) for 10 – 14 weeks to people suffering from mild to moderate depression.
Your emotional health is reflective of your overall psychological wellbeing and your ability to handle challenges of your daily life. It’s an amalgam of various factors, such as your own feelings about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and how well you are at managing your feelings and dealing with demanding situations in your life.
It is important to realise that your emotional wellness lies very much in having faith in yourself, developing reasonable and realistic expectations. You need to be able to cope well with stressful elements and circumstances in your life by building and sustaining positive relationships, and by contributing positively to the community that you’re a part of.
Emotionally sound people develop the ability to bounce back strong from the stressful situations of life and this tendency is referred as the resilience. People having good emotional and mental health are able to maintain a positive outlook to the life even through the tougher times, relying on their enhanced resilience, focus, flexibility and creativity in coping with stressful situations.
Social wellness is one of the most overlooked areas of the health, one that relates to communication and interaction with others. Attending parties, going to movies and playing catch shouldn’t just be considered as fun activities, these also serve as an essential component of maintaining your overall wellness.
Studies reveal that isolation or loneliness has the tendency to lead to social anxieties, depression and mental health issues. For instance, this study conducted by Brigham Young University indicates that social isolation is just as harmful for your health as obesity.
People with healthier social lives have been proven to enjoy longer and happier lives, reducing the risks of diseases like stroke and Alzheimer’s due to boosted strength and immunity. One of the most effective and proven ways of improving social wellness is to avoid negative thinking and negative people.
i) Body Composition
It’s about the percentage of body weight comprising of the fat in your body compared to other body tissues like muscles and bones. Studies suggest that high percentage of body fat in people is more likely to make them ill, also inducing a higher death rate in contrast to the lean people. Having the right kind of food intake and appropriate exercising routine can help improve body composition.
Different methods of measuring body composition exist, such as by using an instrument known as callipers or with reference to the body mass index (BMI), which counts in your weight and height to determine the percentage of fat in your body.
ii) Cardiovascular Endurance
Also known as the heart and lung endurance, it pertains to your ability to engage your whole body in a physical activity for extended periods of time. That’s why you need an optimally functioning heart and lungs with clean and clear blood vessels for supplying the body with the amount of oxygen needed to sustain such an activity.
Activities like running, swimming and aerobics are considered the best to improve your fitness level in this area. You are required to continue the activity without any break for at least 20 minutes, making sure you heart rate remains within the ideal zone. Experts recommend a minimum of 3 days per week for cardiovascular/endurance activities.
Often measured by the amount of weight you can lift, muscular strength involves the extent of force your muscles are able to generate at a given moment. People bearing good strength are less likely to have backaches, better able to perform their daily tasks.
Exercises helpful in improving your muscular strength include push-ups, pull-ups and lifting heavy weights without getting into much repetitions. You can learn more about such exercises on NHS UK.
iv) Muscular Endurance
This is about your proficiency in using the muscles attached to the bones in your body, aimed at repeating the movement as many times as possible without getting tired. Good muscular endurance helps in having a better posture with fewer back problems, improving your resistance to fatigue compared to people lacking in muscular endurance.
You can improve in this area by lifting weights with as many repetitions as possible or doing sit-ups. In fact, many experts rely on the number of correctly performed sit-ups to gauge your fitness level. To know more about muscular endurance exercises, you may visit Live Strong.
Your ability to move your joints optimally is referred as flexibility. Having good flexibility leaves you less vulnerable to sore and injured muscles. Experts recommend stretching before and after physical activities to help improve flexibility. GMB can guide you much better on improving flexibility.
The trunk-lift test and sit-and-reach test are two of the most common ways of measuring how flexible a person is. Topendsports have more on different tests for flexibility.
There are various other components of physical fitness as well:
It relates to exerting maximum muscular contraction in form of an explosive burst of movements at a given instance. Strength and speed are considered to be the basic components of power (for instance a sprint start or jumping).
Speed is a measure of how proficiently you can minimize the time required in completing a movement.
Your agility can be measured by how efficient you are at performing a series of explosive and powerful movements successively in opposite directions (i.e. cutting movements or zigzag running).
Balance is all about your knack of controlling the body’s position, whether in a stationary state (as in a handstand) or in motion (as in gymnastics movements).
The integration of the above-listed fitness components to effectively execute your movements defines your coordination.
Accuracy is a measure of how good you are at controlling a certain movement at an instance in a particular direction.
It refers to the time a person takes in responding to a stimulus. One of the best examples can be the time taken by a swimmer or a sprinter to start their movements.
So, by now it must be clear to you that being free from disease or injury alone doesn’t signify optimal health. You also have to take into consideration the components of physical fitness in addition to assessing one’s mental, emotional and social well-being.
Now all this information leads to one logical question; what’s the best way of taking care of all these varied aspects that collectively contribute to your overall health. Well, that’s where the element of regular exercise steps in.
There’s plenty of verifiable evidence on health benefits of exercise. People with regular exercising habits – anything from competitive sports, fitness boot camps and classes or even working with a personal trainer – are generally healthier and fitter than those without exercising habits.
Regular exercise helps with anything from building muscles to burning fat and easing stress to lowering cholesterol. It is also amazingly helpful in improving your sleep.
Since there’s an endless list of exercises one can choose from, it can create confusion sometimes, especially for the newbies. That’s why we have compiled a list of the types of exercises aimed at maximising your health and fitness potential, also highlighting on how they do so.
- Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
Boxing is known to exist for thousands of years in one form or the other. In fact, it was featured as an Olympic event for the first time back in 688 BCE. Some experts also believe that there’s enough evidence suggesting the existence of boxing in ancient Egypt as well.
Contemporary boxing involves two opponents who try to outpunch each other with padded boxing gloves weighing anywhere between 0.3 – 0.5 kg. Boxers are restricted to using only punches to outplay their opponent and attacking below the belt is considered as foul-play in boxing. Boxing bouts typically last anywhere between 3 to 12 rounds, each one usually confined to 3 minutes.
Boxing is surely one of the most loved and followed sports around the world, with countless boxing boot-camps and gyms offering training facilities to almost anyone.
Boxing workouts normally involve various accessories in addition to padded boxing gloves, such as different types of punch bags, jumping ropes, speed balls and so forth, to help boxers perform the desired exercises.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
Mixed martial arts, or MMA, as it is most commonly known, is a hybrid of various fighting techniques, the most renowned of which include boxing, wrestling, jujitsu, judo, karate, kickboxing and Muay Thai.
Currently known as MMA, just like boxing, this fighting discipline also dates back to thousands of years, believed to be a part of ancient Olympic Games in 648 BCE. Back then, it was referred as “Pankration”, martial training undertaken be the Greek armies of the time.
Rising to fame again through the early 21st century, MMA was more like street fighting, a – no-holds-barred kind of sport, which lacked any elaborative set of rules other than “no biting and no eye gouging”. Those fights ended only when one of the competitors submitted, unable to continue with the fight anymore, or when one corner threw in the towel.
Eventually, MMA evolved to a more rational and widely acceptable sport run by a governing body with a set of rules and weight classes, which also include wearing padded MMA gloves, though much lighter and flexible than the boxing gloves (weighing at about 0.1 kg).
In fact, this helped it gain more traction and now it’s one of the fastest growing sports with millions of followers across the globe.
Considered as one of the most daring, exciting, demanding and dynamic sports, gymnastics is all about performance of systematic exercises. Gymnastics can be performed on padded floor mats, but often requires using accessories like rings, bars, pommel horse, vault, inclined gymnastics mats, balance beams and so forth.
Just like the boxing and MMA, gymnastics also claims ancient origins, featured as one of the major events of the ancient Olympic Games until they were abandoned in 393 AD. Even today, it remains one of the major attractions of the Olympic events, with gymnastics shows selling much earlier than other sports.
This sport has its own unique requisites including flexibility, strength and agility, balance and coordination, control and grace. There are different types or forms of gymnastics, competitive artistic gymnastics remaining the most famed one. Other popular forms include aerobic gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics.
With a 5,000 years of history to boast of, yoga can be defined as a mind and body practice aimed at enhancing both, physical as well as mental wellness. It is believed to be originated in ancient India, its male practitioners being referred as “yogis” and female practitioners as “yoginis”.
There are a host of elements to yoga including breath control, physical exercises or body poses/postures known as “asanas”, meditation and relaxation, all aimed at developing harmony in the body, mind and the soul.
Though yoga postures and poses enjoy massive popularity today, they didn’t enjoy such a vital position in original ancient yoga traditions that originated from India thousands of years ago. Instead of physical fitness, followers and practitioners of yogic tradition were focused more on fostering spiritual energy through breathing methods and mental focus.
Today, yoga is practiced by millions in homes, yoga classes and gyms mostly using yoga mats, yoga bricks and a range of other yoga accessories.
It is interesting to know that all four disciplines highlighted here, i.e. boxing, MMA, gymnastics and yoga share a multitude of health and fitness benefits, which we are going to have a look in the following section.
i) Improved Cardiovascular Health
Your cardiovascular health may be defined as a collective outcome of your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Quite interestingly, aerobic literally translates to “with oxygen”, whereas anaerobic means the opposite, “absence of oxygen”.
So, aerobic conditioning, also commonly known as “cardio” involves physical activity aimed at training the heart and lungs to optimise oxygen supply to the muscles by pumping more efficiently.
Boxing and MMA training usually include an array of the best cardio workouts, such as running, skipping rope, punching a bag, shadow boxing and so on. Exercises like these are considered to be the best in improving your overall endurance.
However, it is quite unfair to confine the benefits of boxing and martial arts training to mere cardio; they also serve great in enhancing your anaerobic conditioning.
In contrast to aerobic conditioning, anaerobic conditioning is aimed at improving your performance in shorter, more explosive physical activities instead of focusing on endurance level.
ii) Enhanced Total-Body Strength
Many exercises and sporting activities are focused on one set of muscles that is being engaged directly in them, ignoring the rest of them. For instance, swimmers can be seen commonly with really strong shoulders and toned upper body, whereas soccer players and have remarkably strong lower body and abdominal region.
However, this is not the case with boxing, MMA and even gymnastics. You get a total body workout with these, resulting in improving your overall body strength significantly. Though boxing seems to be focused more on upper body strength, but the fact of the matter is that it is vitally important for boxers to develop strong legs for a bunch of other reasons, such as:
- Feet and legs serve as the base in generating the power needed to land an impactful punch
- Footwork helped Cassius Clay to evolve into Muhammad Ali, undeniably the GOAT
- Only strong legs and core enable a boxer to attain the level of balance and stability needed to last through the gruelling hour or so of pounding and hammering
(This write-up on EXPERTBOXING.com explains in detail how boxing requires total body engagement.)
As for MMA, it’s kind of self-evident. Since MMA is a full body contact sport, you need to train your whole body to be able to stay at par. From surviving those lethal body shots to sustaining through the constricting tap-out grappling moves, you don’t stand a chance without some super total-body strength.
Same holds true for gymnastics. Practicing gymnastics regularly enhances your total-body strength unbelievably. You must have seen how lean, strong and packed a gymnast’s body looks, and gymnasts have one of the best body shapes without any doubt.
Thy dynamism of gymnastics in general and boxing/MMA in particular require your body to work in perfect harmony, helping you foster hand-eye coordination as well as overall body coordination all through your kinetic chain (also referred as proprioception – unconscious perception of movement).
This type of exercises help you learn how to work your body in unison, instilling agility and briskness through your movements. A good boxer or MMA artist eventually turns better at judging things like distance, timing and impact while interacting with the opponents, which help them dodge punches and kicks effectively.
Boxing and MMA remain the best types of exercises in helping you hone your hand-eye coordination as well as overall body coordination by various drills, such punching a speed ball (a small lightweight punching bag sized no more than a baseball or basketball, hanging down from a moveable disc that makes it turn and bounce quickly with every single blow).
Sparring and shadow boxing/fights with an opponent are also aimed at improving this type of coordination, requiring you to see the target rightly and quickly, hitting it accurately and ducking down when your opponent throws a jab or kick at you.
Similarly, the rhythmic and systematic moves of gymnastics also entail a certain degree of coordination within your body, so that you can continue to maintain your balance jumping and hopping endlessly, changing position and balance of your body frequently.
iv) Weight Management
Most of us, whether practicing boxing and MMA or not, are aware of the efficacy of both these in weight loss, or shall we say weight management. Why? Because these not only help you simply lose fat, but also assist you with optimal weight management.
Many people go overboard while trying to lose fat, adopting unhealthy ways, which might harm them rather than benefiting. However, MMA and boxing don’t let you do so, because they also contribute in adding to your overall strength and endurance, managing your weight in a healthier way.
Even if you talk specifically of burning calories, regularly training martial arts remains incomparable. Where an average medium paced treadmill or running session of 45 minutes ends up burning around 400 calories, a grappling session of the same time length can help you torch up to 700 calories. Grappling and striking surely engage more muscles than simple cycling on a stationary bike or even running on a treadmill.
You will be surprised to see your gains in weight loss when you supplement martial arts training with a balanced and healthy diet.
Gymnastics also remain one of the best ways of cutting down on extra weight. Think about it, have you ever seen an overweight gymnast? I have never seen one! Doesn’t that lead you in thinking gymnastics must be great at curbing weight gain?
However, you shouldn’t expect caloric burn at a particularly fast rate in gymnastics. Studies indicate that a person weighing around 125 pounds will be able to burn 120 calories in a gymnastics session lasting about 30 minutes, while someone weighing about 155 and 185 pounds will end up burning 149 and 178 calories respectively with the same routine in the same time.
Yoga, on the other hand, is not very much associated with weight loss, strictly speaking. However, there are certain more active forms of yoga that can help you weight loss, such as power yoga, Vinyasa and Ashtanga.
v) Improved Lean Muscle Mass
A lean, muscular and toned body goes a long way than just bringing you the aesthetical charms. The more people are getting aware of this, the more they are inclined towards sports like boxing, MMA and gymnastics.
Big lean muscles not only make you look attractive, but also impart power and strength to your body, which you need a lot if you are competing in any of the sports listed above. You not only need to be quick to defeat your opponents in MMA and boxing, but you also need to be strong.
In gymnastics too, you need to be packing enough muscle mass to sustain everything from erecting your body on a pole or rings to getting a perfect landing right after the explosive movements of a floor based routine.
So, if you continue to practice these exercises regularly, you are sure to shed excessive fat and sculpt a lean, muscular, strong and attractive body over a period of time, helping you look better as well as perform better in your respective domain.
vi) Improved Body Composition
Body composition broadly refers to the percentage of various critical elements in your body, such as muscles, fat, water, proteins and essential minerals. Presence of all these elements in a proportionate order is what you need for a healthy body.
Many people falsely believe that body composition is something they have no control over, holding responsible the genetics. Yes, genetics play a vital role in determining your body composition, but appropriate diet with appropriate exercises can help you improve your body composition.
Boxing, MMA and gymnastic, all three include a diverse range of exercises, aerobic as well as anaerobic, resistance as well as cardio. This means your body is getting stimulated in all essential ways it should be. Where aerobic exercises contribute in improving your endurance and conditioning, resistance and weight training stimulates lean muscle mass development.
So, if you are engaged in a multitude of physical activities aimed at improving your endurance as well as strength, bettering your stamina as well as enhancing your power and strength, you are working towards improving your body composition.
Various studies also highlight the significance of how aerobic training and resistance training help you improve your body proportion, like this one study published on NCBI.
Unlike what many people believe, strong sculpted abs not only bring you a lot of aesthetic appeal, but a variety of other health benefits as well. For instance, a strong and stable core helps prevent injuries, especially the age-related ones.
It also helps protect your internal organs, supplementing your central nervous system. You get rid of back pain and daily movement becomes as easy as you can ask for. This Mayo Clinic write-up covers the subject beautifully.
The best part is that all four types of the exercises, i.e. boxing, MMA, gymnastics and yoga contribute in strengthening and stabilising your core one way or the other. Not one, two or a few, but these disciplines offer literally dozens of core stability and strength exercises.
From simple ab crunches to punching the bag, grappling with your opponent, balancing your whole bodyweight on the tip of your fingers or toes to advancing your yoga expertise, your core area is constantly worked upon and for all the right reasons.
Restriction in movements is one of the major health and fitness issues commonly faced by people, especially when they cross 40s. A flexible body slashes your chances of injury and soreness. That’s why fitness experts focus so much on flexibility.
A highly flexible body not only helps you with generating extra power, higher kicks and better punches, it also helps you with your daily-life chores, making sure you can perform daily activities with ease and confidence.
It goes without saying that bone strength and flexibility complement each other. The stronger your bones are, the more you can add to your overall flexibility.
While there are plenty of exercises in boxing and MMA designed to boost your body’s flexibility, gymnastics and yoga are considered as specialised ways of improving your bone strength and flexibility to the next level.
You must have seen how extraordinarily gymnasts and yogis twist and turn their bodies, on sports shows for sure, if not in person. So, if you want strong bones with wide range of motion, start training the right way as soon as possible.
ix) Disease Prevention
Right kind of physical activity helps maintain a healthy and fit body, imparting not only a youthful appearance, but also offering resistance and protection against a host of health conditions like obesity, asthma, diabetes and heart diseases. Being involved in the aforementioned disciplines helps instil a healthy lifestyle comprised of proper diet and exercise.
x) Stress Relief and Elevated Cognitive Functioning
Stress relieving benefits of martial arts no more remain hearsay. There’s plenty of scientific evidence as well. You can count in on this NCBI study, for example. Based on this, we can safely assert that intensive physical activities like martial arts and gymnastics not only help relieve stress, but may go even further.
This particular publication talks of various studies according to which martial arts training may help significantly improve the condition of people suffering from bipolar disorder.
Moreover, there are also first-hand accounts of veterans like Robert Consulmagno in how martial arts training is helping them win over their PTSD and bipolar demons.
There’s also a mayo clinic study on similar accounts, which suggest all types of exercises are helpful in countering stress, boxing more than others, though. Physically intensive activities are specifically believed to calm you down, releasing specialised hormones and endorphins that serve the purpose.
Boxing, MMA and gymnastics, all three have a great potential in helping you shrug off your stress and anxiety, but it is the yoga that goes with mindfulness hand-in-hand, thanks to its essence of controlled breathing and focus that helps your mind zoom in on emotions, thoughts and sensations associated with a particular pose.
The intrinsic benefits of yoga instil cognisance, offering long-lasting physical and psychological benefits, helping you stay calm, relaxed and stress free. This will lead you to experience highly energetic, enthusiastic, confident and accepting in nature. And there’s no denying the fact that fostering such qualities makes living your life convenient and meaningful.
Your body is the most prized possession you may ever have. The sooner you come to terms with that, the better. It doesn’t really matter if you’re young or old, man or a woman; your body needs care and nurturing, and there’s nothing better than indulging in a regular fitness activity, be it martial arts training, gymnastics, yoga or even some other discipline.
Just make sure you’re regularly sparing time for your health and fitness if you want to live a long, happy, healthy and joyful life.