May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month — a time to discover and promote the benefits of living an active lifestyle, whether through exercise or playing sports. Physically fit people have a lower risk of chronic disease, reduced instances of illness, better mental health and overall high quality of life.
This guide provides tips for maximizing how you work out or play sports so that you can pursue lifelong physical fitness.
10 Ways to Improve Physical Fitness
When it comes to creating the ideal recipe for physical fitness, diversity is key. Consider including a healthy mix of the following types of activity for a well-rounded fitness regimen:
- Cardio endurance and conditioning exercises
- Muscle-building exercises
- Endurance, sports and functional fitness
- Mobility, flexibility, coordination and balance exercises
- Rest and recovery time
Below we cover how each of these ingredients adds to your physical fitness and well-being and how you can incorporate them into your exercise routine so you can “move in May.”
1. Stretching and Warm-Ups
Warm-up exercises help with:
- Elevating your body temperature
- Boosting blood flow to your muscles and joints
- Improving balance and coordination
- Increasing flexibility and range of motion
Begin by completing a sequence of dynamic stretches, holding each one for 30 seconds and repeating 3-5 times. Follow stretching with muscle-activating bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and side steps.
Focus on warming up major muscle groups, including back, shoulders, chest, glutes, quads and hamstrings.
2. Physical Fitness Muscular Strength
Muscle mass for both men and women typically peaks around age 30 at which point we naturally start to lose strength as part of the aging process — a condition called sarcopenia. To counter this loss in muscle mass, it’s important to have a strength training and resistance exercise regime that can help you stay strong.
Whether you strength train at a gym, with a personal trainer or at home using bodyweight exercises and home fitness equipment, the most important thing is to stay consistent with your workouts.
Choose exercises that target your major muscle groups, performing 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions each.
According to the CDC, adults should do at least two 30-minute strength training sessions per week to promote lifelong health. Lifting weights or doing resistance exercises a few times per week provides you with the strength you need to have good balance, coordination and mobility into old age.
3. Mobility and Flexibility
The purpose of physical fitness is to be able to be healthy enough for the activity of daily living (ADL), including walking the dog, playing with the kids or carrying groceries up a flight of stairs.
To keep active, our musculoskeletal system needs to be able to respond and adapt to what an active life demands. Mobility and flexibility are key abilities that allow us to do this.
Mobility refers to how well you can move your joints through a complete range of motion without pain. Flexibility refers to how far your muscles can lengthen. For optimal physical fitness, regularly practice mobility and flexibility exercises. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi are all ways to encourage mobility and flexibility.
4. Physical Fitness Balance & Coordination in Physical Fitness
Balance and coordination are key to daily functional fitness. Balance is your ability to remain in control over your body movements and coordination is the ability to move multiple body parts with control and efficiency.
While balance and coordination conditioning are critical aspects of sports performance, they’re also vital elements of daily physical activity and become especially important to maintain with age.
Regularly practicing balance and coordination exercises can help:
- Boost daily energy levels
- Increase agility and strength
- Improve memory and concentration
Balance exercises consist of movements like placing your body weight on one leg while raising the other or “tightrope walking” along a narrow line on the ground.
Coordination exercises include sports training activities like jumping rope, dribbling a basketball and throwing a ball against a wall target.
5. Cardio Activity
Though strength training and playing sports involve cardiovascular exercise, taking time for aerobic conditioning provides numerous other benefits for fitness and overall well-being.
Cardiovascular activity activates both your pulmonary and vascular systems — pushing these systems to their limits to optimize your health and resistance to disease.
Examples of cardio activity include:
- Swimming laps at the pool
- Running on a treadmill
- Cycling on a stationary bike
The CDC says that all adults should endeavor to achieve 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise weekly, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise. This equates to 30 minutes daily, five days per week.
6. High-Intensity and Endurance: Meaning in Physical Fitness
It’s good to include a combination of moderate and intense exercise in your workout regimen. How intense your workouts should be is based on your age and other health factors.
An intense workout is considered any activity that raises your heart rate to 75-85% of its maximum.
To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. For example, if you are 45, then your maximum heart rate is 175 beats per minute. Therefore, a 45-year-old is exercising intensely when their heart rate is between 131 and 148 beats per minute.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way to incorporate a bit more intense exercise into your workouts. HIIT involves bursts of shorter intense activity, like sprints or jumps, followed by light or moderate activity. Cycling through these intervals helps to condition your cardiovascular system for better endurance.
Aim for 1-2 weekly sessions of HIIT or endurance training.
7. Sports and Functional Fitness
How can games and sports help improve your physical fitness? Playing sports and training to play sports is one of the best ways to stay in shape. Athletic exercise provides a well-rounded way to develop various aspects of physical fitness including:
- Strength training and agility
- Cardio exercise and endurance
- Coordination, mobility and functional fitness
With so many different types of sports to play, there’s something for everyone and at all skill levels. While we may think of playing sports as reserved only for kids or the highest-paid athletes, it’s actually something that working adults can enjoy too.
One of the main priorities of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is to get more people interested in sports and find ways to make it accessible to all. Intramural leagues and community sports teams offer a flexible way to get involved in sports for adults.
Whether your game of choice is soccer, baseball, volleyball or floor hockey, if you’re interested in the functional fitness and physical therapy benefits from playing sports for physical fitness, reach out to local groups in your area.
8. Rest and Recovery
No workout plan is complete without making time for rest and recovery. Physical fitness is a lifelong pursuit, so being sidelined by injury and bouts of soreness is not ideal for creating consistent fitness habits.
Prevent injury, illness and workout-related pain by incorporating a combination of active and passive recovery. Active recovery is a light cool-down that helps your muscles ease from high activity to low activity to prevent the buildup of lactic acid that leads to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Stretching, foam rolling, walking and gentle swimming are all ways to actively recover from physical activity.
Passive recovery on the other hand is being completely at rest, which allows for your muscle tissues, joints and other cells throughout your body to repair and strengthen after a workout. Choose passive recovery when you’re rehabilitating an injury, are at risk of developing an injury or are experiencing extreme muscle soreness.
9. Progress Tracking
One of the central elements of a commitment to fitness is knowing that you’re working toward a certain goal and having a way to track your progress. Even if your goal is just to maintain weight or stick to a regular workout schedule, you should actively track your efforts.
To track your progress, use whatever tools are at your disposal. Fitness devices and apps like Fitbit or Garmin keep track automatically for you. Or, you might use the app that comes with your gym membership. Still, you may prefer to keep a notebook of your activity.
Whatever your goal is, decide which metrics to track that will tell you how successful you are at accomplishing it.
10. Nutrition and Hydration
Last but not least, no physical fitness plan is complete without having a plan to keep nourished and hydrated.
Nutrients are critical to feeding your tissues so they need to stay strong and healthy. For healthy physical functioning, you need a good balance of the three key macronutrients — protein, fats and carbs. How much you need of each depends on your age, gender and weight loss, gain or management goals.
Minerals like magnesium, potassium and sodium — collectively called electrolytes — are critical to replenish after a workout. Likewise, after a good sweat session, you need to refill with plenty of fresh, clean water.
Find Fitness and Therapy Solutions at Relax The Back
Embracing variety is the key to lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity. Incorporating an assortment of exercise types helps set you up for a healthy, active lifestyle.
For all your physical fitness and recovery needs, visit Relax The Back. Shop our collection of fitness and therapy products online, including our selection of inversion tables and stretchers, as well as massage guns and rollers for healthy, active recovery.