Monday, January 8, 2018

What is fitness?

BWL Column
The News-Press, 1/4/2018
by Ken Gooderham

A new year can bring new resolve, perhaps to be a better person or at least to be a fitter one. Addressing the former is well above my pay grade, but working toward the latter is something about which there are insights to be shared.

First, fitness is a matter of routine, finding something you enjoy doing and will make a (habitual) part of your daily life.

As many have shared, fitness is not a destination but a process – and a crucial component of that process is regular ongoing activity. What that activity needs to be is based on your fitness goals, but it’s also based on your fitness feelings – meaning finding something (or some combination of things) you will do regularly and that will help you accomplish your goals.

If you want to get stronger, lift weights. If you want to get leaner, aerobic exercise is key. Is flexibility your target? Try yoga. Want a little bit of each? Then do a little of each – a good way to stay engaged and to avoid overuse of certain body parts to their eventual detriment.

You also need to look for things that are easy for you to do (almost) every day. That’s why we bring up biking, walking and running so often… activities that can be incorporated easily into your daily life, on your schedule and as part of other pursuits. (They also work well for where you live, at least in terms of weather if not always in terms of facilities.)

But some people need other motivators to get (and keep) them moving. They need to join a gym, let’s say, particularly one that’s close to either work or home, and one that has a variety of activities to keep things interesting. They may need to sign up for classes or coaching, working to get better at a specific task or practice via a commitment of time and money. Or they may need to find someone else with which to share their fitness pursuit, knowing that having someone who’s depending on you will boost your motivation and (maybe) combat boredom.

Second, you need to decide what fitness is to you before you can get there.

For some, fitness is a body image… muscular or slender, sculpted abs or bulging biceps. For others, fitness is a physical ability… able to run 5 miles or cycle a century, the strength to lift a certain amount of weight or the flexibility and focus to excel at yoga.

Some equate fitness with wellness, the ability to avoid disease to enjoy life with fewer aches and pains. Others see fitness as a state of being, some combination of mental and physical equilibrium that stays in one’s individual “sweet spot.”

All of these definitions can be correct… the key is to determine which one is the target for you. That will better define how you pursue fitness.

Being physically fit typically encompasses five components:
    • Cardiorespiratory endurance
    • Muscular endurance
    • Muscular strength
    • Flexibility
    • Body composition

So, while all of these are part of fitness, your view of what makes someone fit may focus more on one than the others. It helps to know that going in. That list is also a good reminder that fitness is not just one of these attributes, but a combination of them all… so the bulky body builder who can’t climb a flight of stairs or reasonably bend over is not “fit” by the usual measures.

Third, you need to know what motivates you to do something – and what does not motivate or, worse, has the opposite effect.

Let’s consider the currently faddish fitness trackers: Some people swear by them, others swear at them. If you like data and need daily goals, they can be great motivators to keep you moving (at least until you hit your target for that day). However, studies have shown that failing to make those goals can actually discourage people from even trying, or can undermine fitness efforts if the tracker’s purpose is not understood by the user (it measures movement, not your entire fitness regimen).

Then there’s the frustration many have with the technology itself, finding it too complicated or cumbersome to be an effective part of their routine. You also need to check that the tracker even tracks all the activities you want to measure; some models fail miserably at monitoring things such as cycling or swimming.

All of this is not meant to discourage you from working to be more fit – quite the opposite. Making the right choices early improves your chances for success and for sticking with a fitness practice that can work for you for the long haul.

Seniors, take a survey!

Carol Kachadoorian, a transportation planner with Toole Design Group, is doing research on seniors who cycle. She has launched a survey is for cyclists 50 years and older, which includes an option to complete an online journal of two cycling trips.

The survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.  It will remain open for several months in order to get the greatest number of responses. Go to to take the survey.


Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at 

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