Just what does it mean to be fit? Fortunately, fitness has nothing to do with running an 8-minute mile or doing 20 push-ups on command. On the other hand, being in shape can't be measured purely by how much time you spend exercising.
Health professionals across the board — from cardiologists to physiologists and trainers — have loosely the same definition of "being in good shape": the ability to do the things you enjoy doing without feeling limited.
In terms of specific benchmarks, it's difficult to predict what an individual should be able to do, says Jude Sullivan, Senior Clinical Exercise Physiologist at University of Wisconsin Health. "For my mom, it's: Can she sit in a chair, bend over, and tie her shoes? For me, it's: Can I excel in my taekwondo class? Both pack a punch because they have a lot of meaning for each person." If you care for grandkids regularly, the question may be: Can you be engaged and active with them while they're at play, not just sitting on a bench watching, he adds.
While experts hesitate to quantify what being in shape means exactly, the baseline for being in bad shape should be pretty clear. If you're 50 years old, and you're not able to walk a block without panting, you're not in good shape, says Martha Gulati, M.D., M.S., FACC, a cardiologist and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, a patient education initiative from the American College of Cardiology.
What's Weight Got to Do With It?
Not very much. Even if you're a skinny Minnie (or Vinnie), it doesn't mean you're in the clear. While the benefits of being at a healthy weight abound, fitness is determined by how much activity you can do, says Dr. Gulati. "It's how well can you endure exercise, which is affected by your muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, body composition, age, gender, and more."
Celebrity trainer and fitness expert Joel Harper says there are five elements to being in good shape: muscle strength, heart strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. To help you assess your fitness level, Harper devised the following set of activities — see how many of them you can complete! Each activity requires just a few minutes of your time and no equipment. Keep in mind, this assessment isn't scientific, but it will help you identify what you can do, and what you should work on.
NOTE: To prevent injury, talk to your doctor before trying these exercises.
If you can complete 1-3 exercises: Prioritize your workout efforts in 2016.
If you can complete 4-6 exercises: Good job, but step it up!
If you can complete 7-9 exercises: Bravo, keep up the good work!!
Need to step up your workout efforts? There's no time like the present — and it's never too late. "The more fit you are, the less likely you are to have heart disease, cancer, all kinds of health-related issues. We have good data showing that even elderly people who start a fitness regimen do better health-wise," says Dr. Gulati, referring to a 2014 study published in JAMA which found that sedentary adults aged 70-89 who had trouble walking a quarter mile lowered their risk of physical disability by adding moderate exercise to their daily regimen.
The CDC recommends that adults do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week (or 2.5 hours a week, total, split up however you'd like), plus 20 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercise twice a week. Not sure what constitutes "moderate intensity?" "You should be able to talk to the person next to you, but not want to talk to them," says Dr. Gulati. "If you're comfortably able to talk to the person next to you, you're not pushing yourself hard enough." Most people underestimate how hard they're capable of working, adds Sullivan.
One last hurdle you might face in the quest for a fitter you: What's the best exercise to improve my health? (And what if I don't like it?) "The best exercise is the one that you're going to do," says Sullivan, who specializes in preventative cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation. "If it's something you're doing because you feel like you have to be a hero about it or some magazine suggested it, the likelihood of that being sustainable is not good." First figure out what's possible — talk to your doctor and come up with five activities you're physically capable of doing and want to do — and pick one thing to start, suggests Sullivan. Even walking with water bottles in your hands is enough to give you some resistance training, says Dr. Gulati.
One benefit of the exercise guidelines is that every set of stairs, every extra block of walking counts. "It doesn't have to be in continuous time—we just need to be perpetually moving," says Sullivan.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.