Why physical fitness is not all about weight loss

Americans are stuck. Whether we’re stuck in a physical cubicle or a mental rut, we’ve lost our enthusiasm for bodily movement.  Despite the joy we felt as children, our days filled with imaginary play, tree climbing and jump rope are long gone.  Most of us can think back to high school and college days where we chose to participate in a sports or intramural team.  We probably did these activities because we enjoyed the camaraderie, had fun, and maybe we were even good at them.  These reasons were reinforced through the bonds we formed with our teammates, and improvements made in our physical fitness.  Even during our biggest moments of doubt, we had the support and encouragement of our parents, coaches and friends to keep us motivated. 


So what happens when we graduate and the season is over for good?  Simply put, life happens.        We grow up and we become adults with jobs, a family to support along with all the responsibilities and stresses that go hand-in-hand.  Suddenly, we realize it’s been awhile since exercising regularly and we’re no longer in our best shape.  We’ve put on a few – okay, maybe more – pounds and may even suffer from a chronic condition.    

If this describes you, you’re not alone.  The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition has some sobering facts on the physical inactivity of American adults:

·         Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week

·         More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities

·         Only 35-44% of adults 75 years or older are physically active and 28-34% of adults ages 65-74 are physically active

·         Only one in three children are physically active every day

The United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is calling for a national campaign centered on walking to combat chronic disease and obesity.  Currently, research shows that one of every two U.S. adults is living with a chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

To add insult to injury, a recent article in the American Journal of Medicine titled “Regular physical activity: forgotten benefits” stated that around 36% of adults in the United States do not engage in any leisure-time physical activity at all. What a shame. When we keep ourselves physically active and fit, it greatly improves the chances of reducing our risk of chronic diseases and positively enhancing our lives in innumerable ways.  How can we get back our love of physical activity?

The answer lies in reframing the benefits.  Instead of viewing exercise primarily as a means of losing weight and preventing chronic disease - which of course it can do – what if it was looked at as a way to boosting our overall enjoyment of life?  Would it help to think of physical activity more in terms of the here and now instead of the “what ifs?”        

Thinking of exercise in terms of how it’s benefitting you today and not just in the future may be more of a better motivator to get up and move.  When you go for a walk, jog, lift weights or stretch, how does that make you feel in that moment?  We know it’s good for keeping us physically fit but let’s take a look at what other benefits are gained:         

1.      More restful, beneficial sleep – Physically active people are more likely to have a good night’s sleep.  Less insomnia, less tossing and turning trying to fall asleep leads to waking up feeling more refreshed without getting overly tired during the day.

2.      Improved nutritional health – People who are physically active burn more energy or calories. Caring enough to keep yourself physically fit has a correlation to caring more about what you feed your body.  Physically fit people tend to choose nutrient dense foods loaded with healthful vitamins and minerals making them less likely to have nutritional deficiencies.

3.      Improved body composition – Physical activity on an ongoing, consistent basis, helps to limit body fat -  particularly belly fat -  while increasing and maintaining lean muscle mass.  It’s not just about being thin – muscle definition lends itself to a more toned physic.  People with more muscle mass and less fat, burn more calories even at rest.

4.      Enhanced resistance to colds and other infectious diseases – Fitness enhances your immune system and keeps you healthy.  Even in sickness, the frequency and the duration of  illness will be reduced.

5.      Makes daily activities easier – Being physically fit means daily activities become easier.  Injuries are less likely due to improved balance, mobility and stability.  Being fit means fewerpulled muscles or aches and pains the next day after doing a regular activity. 

6.      Lower incidence and severity of anxiety and depression – Physical activity leads to your body releasing endorphins. Those “feel good” hormones improve the mood or a person, helping to relieve stress and feelings of anxiety and depression.  Additionally, the sense of achievement that comes from meeting physical and mental challenges promotes self-confidence.

7.      Better posture and self-image – Practicing regular physical activity, strengthens muscles and improves your skeletal system, giving you an overall better appearance and again, a self-esteem boost.

8.      Longer and higher quality of life – Simply put, active people live longer and have healthier lives that leads to independence and mobility well into old age.  

9.      It makes you feel good and look younger – Last but not least, being physically active and fit feels and looks great.  People who are physically fit often look years younger than their age as they age more gracefully. Once you make it a frequent habit of exercising, you’ll begin to notice improved stamina, more energy, better mood, less aches and pains and an overall feeling of wellness. Achieving wellness feels good – being out-of-shape does not. 

Physical activity guidelines

If you’re not sure where to start with becoming more physically active, here are some ideas.  There are four components of achieving physical fitness that are important to include in a  daily routine:

1.      Flexibility – achieved through stretching, yoga, pilates

2.      Muscle strength – achieved through weight training

3.      Muscle endurance – achieved through weight training

4.      Cardiorespiratory endurance – achieved through aerobic exercise

      The chart below is a helpful guide for knowing how to achieve the four components ofphysical fitness:


Becoming more physically active is well-worth the effort.  Always clear being physically active with your physician if it’s been awhile and start off slowly, gradually building up a routine that works for you.  Find your physical activity niche and enjoy the invaluable benefits you will reap.  


Cheryl Mussatto has over 30 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings that cover a wide span of nutrition experience.  Currently she works as an adjunct professor for two community colleges, Allen Community College in Burlingame and Butler Community College in Council Grove, Kansas teaching two courses, Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. She is a consulting dietitian for the Cotton O’Neil Medical Clinic in Osage City doing individualized nutrition counseling. Cheryl also is a contributing author for osagecountyonline.com, an online newspaper and Edietitians, a global free nutritional and health magazine. Her articles for both publications pertain to nutrition topics that cover a diversity of health and nutrition interests for the general public.  She is also certified as a health and wellness coach. Visit her website atwww.eatwell2bewellrd.com and Facebook page: Eat Well 2 Be Well