July 9, 2018

How to overcome challenges to becoming physically fit


In today’s world, where increasing the span of healthy life is a major goal for most adults, the concept of personal fitness has become extremely important. Personal fitness is the ability to meet daily demands and cope with unexpected challenges without undue fatigue and leaving us with adequate leisure time. Considering the continuous demands and challenges we face every day, being physically fit should rightly become a top priority item for all of us. However, as per an ICMR report of 2014, 54.4% of the adults surveyed were inactive and only 13.7% were reported as highly active. Contrary to popular perception, respondents in urban areas were more inactive compared to rural areas. Less than 10% of respondents engaged in any kind of recreational physical activity.

Considering this statistics, it becomes highly imperative for us to understand the necessity of physical fitness, get over the mental or physical barriers around it and start being physically more active and fit.

What is physical fitness?

Physical fitness is a multidimensional state of our body and mind, with multiple components. Being physically fit helps us to work effectively and efficiently, have higher resistance to diseases, enjoy our lives and meet emergencies more calmly.

Physical fitness is a part of holistic wellness but is different from the psychological, sociological, emotional, and spiritual components of fitness. Although physical fitness is the outcome of many things put together, being physically fit is not possible without sustained physical activity

Why physical fitness?

Being physically fit helps us have a better quality of life, with better sleep patterns, reduced stress and improved ability to connect socially. It gives us more focus, and helps us lead a more disciplined and happier life. It also reduces the likelihood of developing many life-style diseases. According to USA’s centre for disease control (CDC), exercise can reduce the risk of

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Breast and colon cancer
  • Osteoporosis

As per CDC, very few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on overall health as physical activity. People who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.

Hence, it is not necessary to have high levels of physical fitness or do high intensity physical activity to achieve significant health benefits. Even moderate amounts of activity did regularly, positively affect our physical and mental health.

Skills derived from physical fitness

Being physically fit for a sustained period of time has benefits other than good health. It improves our motor skills like agility, speed, balance and coordination and focus. These impact our performance in aspects of our lives that are not directly related to physical fitness, like our professional and personal lives. Being physically fit adds to our sense of well-being, lifts our mood and keeps us calmer and brings more discipline and determination into our lives.

Overcoming challenges to physical fitness

If we extrapolate the ICMR report to our country’s entire population, approximate 392 million people are stated to be physically inactive, thus exposing a huge population to inactivity-related lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity. This emphasizes the urgent need to be aware about the need of being physically fit and starting a fitness routine if we want to live healthier.

Considering all the amazing benefits of physical fitness and perils of not being fit, one might wonder why so many people are not choosing to be fit. The most common reasons many people give for not choosing fitness as a way of life are

  • Do not have enough time to exercise
  • Find it inconvenient/inappropriate/socially awkward to exercise
  • Lack self-motivation
  • Do not find exercise enjoyable; find it monotonous
  • Lack confidence in their ability to be physically active or faith in its benefits
  • Fear being injured or have been injured recently
  • Lack self-management skills, such as the ability to set personal goals, monitor progress, or reward progress toward such goals
  • Lack encouragement, support, or companionship from family and friends, and
  • Do not have necessary amenities or infrastructure

Many of these challenges are more to do with mental barriers rather than actual challenges and have immediate solutions. For example,

Lack of time – Understand what time works best for you, set aside at least 4 20-minute slots a week when you are free. Schedule your activity accordingly. Moreover, add physical activity to your daily routine. Walk where possible, instead of driving or being driven. Do yoga while watching TV. Dance at home. Do whatever works for you.

Societal awkwardness – Make new friends or build new friendships with those who are interested in physical activity. Help your friends and family understand the importance of fitness and help them get fit.

Lack of motivation/confidence – Plan activities that you will enjoy. Join a class or exercise with a friend; choose an activity you both will enjoy. Involve your most vocal supporter in your routine and its details so you stay encouraged.

As with any mental/emotional barrier, all challenges can be overcome with awareness and self-belief. Once there is an understanding of the importance of being physically fit, rest can be taken care of.

How fit do you want to be?

For the average overachiever of today, the motto is to have big aspirations. But the basic tenet of goal-setting in any professional life holds true here too – it has to be SMART – Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

Hence for a sedentary person, a goal of ‘I want to go to the gym everyday’ is not SMART. A SMARTer goal would be ‘I want to be physically active for at least 20 minutes every day’. Similarly for a moderate exerciser, a goal of ‘I want to complete the full marathon next month’ is not SMART. A SMARTer goal would be ‘I want to complete the full marathon to be held 6-8 months later’ or ‘I want to complete the half-marathon in 3 months’.

So set your expectations realistically. If you are aware, you might have fitness goals around gaining/losing weight, building muscle, losing fat, increasing strength/performance, getting in shape or just getting healthier. You might also have specific measurable goals in each of these. For example, you might want to gain/lose 3 kgs, improve your performance by a few minutes, improve your blood sugar/cholesterol levels to the healthy range etc. However, remember to keep these goals SMART.

According to research, for optimum health benefits, the average adult should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of high-intensity aerobic activity. The activity should be performed continuously for at least 10 minutes, and should be spread throughout the week. Additionally, muscle-strengthening activities should be done at least twice a week, involving all major muscle groups. Depending on your fitness goal, you might increase the intensity or frequency or tweak it.

How do you want to be fit?

Once your mind is made up and goal is set the next big hurdle is to decide what to do. All around us there are so many ways of physical fitness that it confuses even the more experienced exercisers. A few activity options that are accessible to everyone are:

Aerobic activity

  • Walking fast, running or jogging, either outdoors or on a treadmill
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Martial arts
  • Dancing and dance-based exercise routines
  • Playing any game involving moderate-to-high physical activity, like badminton, tennis, squash, football, cricket etc

Muscle-strengthening activity

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e., push-ups, sit ups, surya namaskar etc)
  • Heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling) or other outdoor activity that involves major muscles
  • Yoga

For those with physical disabilities or conditions that restrict them from a certain type of physical activities, there are multiple other options. They will need to talk to their physicians to understand which options are best suited for them.

Getting started

As with anything, taking the first step is the hardest part of physical fitness. So, start at a comfortable level, a level you can sustain and achieve every day. Make sure to do it every day and gradually add more activity as you go along. There may be days you will not want to do the activity but train your brain to overcome the mental barrier. Once you are consistently active for a few weeks and see the benefits, you will be motivated enough to continue it.

Share your goals and fitness expectations/achievements with your friends and family so you will stay motivated to continue.

Choose activities that are appropriate for your age, health and fitness levels. Ensure safety before you start and consult an expert if you experience any pain or discomfort other than starting pains.

Conclusion: Staying active for life

Starting a fitness schedule may be the best thing you can do for yourself. Once you get started and see the benefits of being physically active and fit, there will be an added motivation for staying active. That is the time for you to set your personal fitness goals. There are multiple devices and apps these days to help measure and track progress. There are wearable’s like smart watches from Apple, Garmin as well as fitness bands from various companies like Fit Bit and Goqii. There are also a lot of apps available for mobile phones on all platforms. Use technology to measure and track your progress. Celebrate your progress and each milestone. Either maintain the same goal or revise it based on your fitness expectations.

There are a good number of government plans and policies to encourage fitness among students and government employees. The fitness industry is also seeing a huge growth, and organizations are encouraging their employees to be fitter. However, no amount of policies or advertisement campaigns can help, unless there is a self realization about the need for being physically fit. Hence, there is a need for more awareness campaigns and open discussions on the need and importance of physical fitness.

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