First Appeared in:
The Sunday Oregonian, Health, Fitness & Beauty, February 8, 1998, pages 2-3.
These Days, Fitness is Defined by Each Individual
by Nancy McCarthy
Special Writer to the Oregonian
For many people, a new year inspires a new determination to become physically fit. But what does "fitness" mean?
Fitness, say the experts, is a state of mind. While weight, muscle tone and nutrition do play a part in keeping fit, nowadays fitness is much more than that.
"Fifty years ago, fitness meant weight loss," said Patti Paxson, owner of Resort to Fitness, a health club devoted exclusively to women. "it's different now; we have a lot of fit women here that are carrying some weight, but they are fit physically, mentally and spiritually.
In essence, being fit is feeling the best about yourself, others say.
"It's feeling like you're at your optimum level of energy," said Tony Tully, a trainer at 24-Hour Fitness Hollywood Center.
"You have to feel good about yourself," Tully added. "Fitness for each person is different. Everybody has a different background, everybody has different needs."
Someone may look fit but may be metabollcally unhealthy, said Gretchen Newmark, a licensed dietician in private practice. If people think that exercise is all they need to be fit, they could be fooling themselves, she added. Over-exercise and undereating could result in injuries or ailments ranging from stress fractures to amenorrhea, the absence of menstruation.
"Somebody could look incredible and be an Olympic athlete, but on a health level, they could be a disaster." Newmark said.
Stress reduction also plays a big part in being fit, said Rick Allen, a Portland chiropractor who treats sports injuries and performs sports massage. From 50 to 80 percent of those who visit physicians complain about stress, Allen said. The key to long-term health is a proper balance -- physical, chemical, emotional and spiritual, Allen said.
"Stress can take the form of a tight upper back and neck and digestive problems. The whole body changes. We work best when we have regular rhythms -- sleeping, waking, meditation and prayer. They all are important," he added.
Fitness means different things at different ages, noted Erika Krieg, fitness director at 24-Hour Fltness in downtown Portland. "For a senior citizen, it may be being able to reach behind your head to comb your hair. For a person of 25, It may mean body composition, and for someone in between, fitness could mean the ability to go hiking with the kids on the weekend.
The effort to become fit shouldn't become drudgery. Think of the benefits fitnesss brings besides weight loss -- extended life, increased strength, improved blood flow and an increased lung capacity.
It means improved self-esteem because you're doing something for yourself," said Edna Flscher, fitness director at Resort to Fitness.
When a person decides to set goals to become more fit, several things need to be considered, the experts say. Here are a few suggestions:
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- Determine what you want your level of fitness to be. Do you want to run a marathon or simply be able to walk up two flights of stairs without huffing and puffing?
- Understand why you are setting these goals. If you know why they are important to you, you will be able to stick to them.
- Find out how fit you are before you start. Many health clubs won't let you use the equipment without such an assessment.
"I don't think anybody should start a program without some kind of assessment," said Susan Walsh, fitness director at the Multnomah Athletic Club.
Newcomers there ride a stationary bike while their heart rate and blood pressure are measured. A computer printout tells how much exercise the heart can handle.
- Start with small goals first. "Don't expect to lose 100 pounds and run a marathon in three months," said Megan Sheehy, a trainer at Resort to Fitness. "People need to set realistic goals."
- Put more fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet: try to keep fat intake to 20 to 25 percent of total calories.
"Instead of going to McDonald's, try a Lebanese restaurant instead." suggested Dr. William E. Conner, professor of clinical nutrition at Oregon Health Sciences University. Conner is the co-author of the New American Diet Cookbook.
- But don't be overly strict with your exercise regimen or your diet, warned Newmark. "I don't set a point in having a fit body if you're not enjoying Ilfe," she added.
- Vary your routine. Try yoga or tai chi for strength, flexibility, balance and relaxation. Hop on a special stationary bike in a "spinning" class to get your heart going. Learn rhythm through a funk dance class. Or combine several classes in a NIA class that melds yoga, tai chi and dance.
- Get a "tune-up" every six months by getting a therapeutic massage or seeing a chiropractor to loosen up muscles and connective tissue.
"Some people take better care of their car than their body," Allen said. "You wouldn't run a car for six months without changing the oil."
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