Participating in all those sports means you’re active, not necessarily fit. It takes specific training to build fitness, using exercises designed to improve flexibility, strength, and endurance. To be physically fit, you’ve got to have all three.
* Strength. This is a measure of how much force you can exert with your muscles. When you’re physically strong, you’re less likely to sustain injury when you do heavy work. You’ll also do better in other activities, including games and sports.
* Endurance. There are two types: heart and lung (cardiorespiratory) and muscular endurance. Cardiorespiratory endurance means you’ve got a strong heart and lungs that can supply your body with nutrients and oxygen. Your muscular endurance is how long your muscles can work.
The greater your endurance, the more energy you’ll have to play sports or games. Your muscles will be trim, and you’ll breathe easily–even during exertion. And the healthier your lungs and heart, the easier you’ll be able to fight off some diseases.
* Flexibility. A flexible person can move all the muscles and joints through their full range of motion. The more flexible you are, the more easily you can reach, bend, and stretch. You’re less likely to injure your muscles and joints. This is an area of fitness tests where girls excel. And girls continue to increase flexibility throughout their teen years.
You also may want to have someone (like a physical education teacher) check your body composition: the proportion of fat to lean mass–muscle, bone, tissue, and organs. But are you aware that weight isn’t always a good indicator of fitness?
Take Bob and Tim. Both weigh about the same, but Tim looks out of shape; Bob is fit and trim. Why? Muscle weighs more than fat. Although they both have the same weight, Bob actually is more fit and looks better. Tim looks bigger, but his bulk comes from fat, which weighs less.
You can build up cardiorespiratory endurance with aerobic exercises such as jumping rope, running, walking, and biking. These activities will also help burn off calories. Muscular endurance can be improved by push-ups, leg raises, and curl-ups.
You can improve strength by working out with weights, bar-bells, or special strength-training equipment.
Flexibility can be improved by stretching, including the “V-Sit Reach,” in which you spread your legs and stretch beyond your toes. And stretching also helps release tension and ease stress.
Test Your Fitness
Want to know how good your cardiorespiratory endurance is? Just clock how fast you can run a mile. About half of all girls between the ages of 6 and 17 and 30 percent of boys between ages 6 and 12 can’t run a mile in less than 10 minutes. How well do you stack up?
If you want to test your muscular endurance, count the number of curl-ups you can do. That tests your abdominal muscle strength and endurance. To qualify for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, boys from 13 to 17 must be able to do 42 to 44 curl-ups (the number increases with age) in one minute. Girls 13 to 17 should be able to do 37 to 33 (this number decreases with age).
You can test your strength by seeing how much weight you can hold in place or how much weight you can move, using either a barbell or strength-training machines. You’ll need to get some expert advice before using this special equipment.
To test for flexibility, see how far you can reach beyond your toes in the V-Sit Reach. To qualify for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, girls ages 13 to 17 must reach 7 to 8 inches (the number increases with age) beyond their toes; boys ages 13 to 17 must reach 3.5 to 7 inches (the number increases with age).
If you want to improve your fitness level, it’s a good idea to set some goals and record your weekly progress. Keep track of the number of curl-ups or pull-ups you do. Log in the number of miles you walk or run.
Keep these pointers in mind:
* Gradually increase the difficulty, the length of time, and the number of times you do each exercise. It should take about six to eight weeks to start seeing improvement, but you’ll feel better right away.
* Set aside a regular time to work out–at least three or four times a week. Don’t wait too long between workouts.
* If you want your muscles to get stronger, you’ll have to work them harder than normal. You want your heart to beat faster and your breathing to increase if you’re doing aerobics. You want to do more repetitions of an exercise or lift more weight. If an exercise seems too easy, it probably is. Add a bit more weight, or add a few more repetitions.
* Each type of exercise is designed to improve a specific aspect of fitness. You won’t build muscle by doing stretches; that builds flexibility.
The Time Is Right
One good time to exercise is about an hour before the evening meal–this helps melt away stress and worries that have built up over the day. Some people like to work out early in the morning before the day begins–to feel more alert and energetic.
Don’t exercise during very hot, humid weather or within an hour of eating. Both heat and digestion make the body’s circulatory system work overtime; exercising on top of this extra work can be too much for your body to handle.
Remember: It’s exercise that gives muscles their shape and helps decrease body fat. The more physically fit you are, the more well-balanced your body will be.