How do I become physically fit?
If you feel that you should shape up, lose some punds and exercise more, you are on the right track. These are the steps you should follow:
1. Find out how "unfit" you are
Learn if you are overweight or obese. Our BMI (Body Mass Index) Calculator will help you to do that.
Having defined your weight you can set a goal and a realistic tame frame to achieve it ("lose 20 pounds over the next year by reducing my caloric intake by 20% and increase my level of physical activity as per the following program").
2. Adopt a Two-Pronged approach
You can lose weight by:
- Reducing your calorie intake: with a diet
- Increase your energy expenditure: by increasing your levels of physical activity
Not only will you lose weight, you will also get into shape and feel much better as you do so.
2. Get started with diet and exercise programs
Our Tips and Advice for Weight Loss page has plenty of tips on diet and lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy and balanced diet to lose weight safely and keeping it off.
But dieting and food is only one aspect. The other is increasing your levels of physical activity.
Our Getting Started page shows you how to prepare your exercise program in a gradual step-by-step plan with clear goals. It also has tips on how to stick to your training program, keep motivated and stay on track.
This page deals with the physical activities that you could include in your program and also links to different resources that will help you learn more about the risks of being overweight and also, how to lose weight.
How do I start exercising?
Simple, just prepare your plan and start. How much physical activity you need, depends on your age, the guidelines published by the US Department of Health and Human Services can help you define your physical activity goals in your personal fitness program:
Physical Activity Guidelines
These are the recommended levels to "maintain health", they are the minimum. You should aim at doing much more than this.
Adults: age 18 to 64
- Any physical activity (PA) is better than none. Avoid inactivity. Any amount of PA will provide health benefits.
- For "substantial" health benefits: Do at least 150 minutes per week (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorouos-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Or a combination of both.
- Aerobic activity should last at least 10 minutes and be spread out throughout the week.
- For even more health benefits increase the moderate-intensity aerobic activity to 5 hours ⁄ week or the vigorous-intensity to 150 minutes ⁄ week.
- You should also include muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
Older Adults: +65 years
- Try to follow the adult guidelines above, if you can't then try to keep as physically active as possible.
- Exercise to maintain and improve balance -to avoid the risk of falling.
- Your level of physical activity (PA) should be in line with your level of fitness.
- Those suffering from chronic health conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular PA safely.
In case you are wondering, these definitions explain what "moderate" or "vigorous" mean:
- Moderate-intensity physical activity: is aerobic activity that increases your heart rate and breathing somewhat. This is 5 or 6 on a 0 to 10 scale.
- Vigorous-intensity physical activity: is aerobic activity that greatly increases your heart rate and breathing. This is 7 or 8 on a 0 to 10 scale.
- Muscle-strengthening activity: PA that builds muscle power, mass and endurance. It includes strength training, resistance training, muscular strength and endurance exercises.
Knowing how much you need is the first step, the second is to work this physical activity into your daily and weekly routine.
Chose activities that you like and enjoy. Do something that you can realistically fit into your daily schedule.
Try to be more active
Take breaks from long periods of inactivity -i.e. sitting at your desk at your job- by standing up, walking, and doing some light activity).
Sitting on your backside is bad for your health. Couch potatoes have higher health risks. So get up and move about.
Mix Moderate and Vigorous Aerobic activities
As a rule of the thumb, 1 minute of vigorous activity is equal to 2 minutes of moderate activity.
So jogging for 15-minute or riding a bike fast or uphill for 15 minutes, are each equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate activity.
Examples of Moderate Aerobic Activity
You need at least 150 minutes per week of this type of physical activity:
- Brisk walking
- Water aerobics
- Playing volleyball or basketball
- Playing touch football
- Playing doubles tenis
- Riding a bike on level ground
- Pushing a lawn mower, light gardening (raking)
- Washing and waxing your car, washing windows or floors
- Shovelling snow
- Skating, rollerblading, skateboarding
It is better to spread it out along the week (not 150 minutes in one go!, try 30 minutes on 5 days, every week).
Moderate activity will make your heart beat faster and you'll breathe faster.
How to tell if its Moderate activity
You can still talk, but you can't sing the words to a song
Vigorous Activity, some examples
You will be breathing hard and fast, you will notice the effort. These are some activities that require vigorous effort:
- Jogging, running
- Swimming fast
- Riding a bycicle fast or on hilly terrain
- Playing soccer, singles tennis or hockey
- Gymnastics, martial arts or aerobics
- Skipping rope
How to tell if its Vigorous activity
You won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Muscle Strengthening Activities
Keeping muscle mass, is important as you age. Strong muscles help you keep mobile, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, contribute to joint and bone health. You should do strenght exercise to keep your muscles in shape.
Strenght activities are not aerobic, so you must do them in addition to your minimum 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity.
Examples of muscle strenghtening activities:
- Lifting weights
- Workout with resistance bands
- Using your body weight as you exercise (sit-ups, abs, push-ups, squats).
- Heavy chores at home (digging in the garden).
- Yoga, pilates, Tai Chi
You don't need to go to the gym to strenghten your muscles, you can do it at home
Muscle Strength Sessions
Aim at least at one set.
With 8 to 12 repetitions in each set
Do them to the point where you struggle to complete another rep.
How long does it take to become fit?
It all depends on your "baseline" fitness, are you really out of shape, or only slightly? And also on the intensity and frequency of your physical activity. See the following examples:
Pearn (1980) ( 1 ) studied a group of 50 young university undergraduates who volunteered to a fitness program in a military training camp, "All the subjects became fit within 14 days of starting training, with objective improvement in both absolute strength and pulse recovery times".
Of course, military training is rather intense, so we can assume that two weeks is the minimum time to get fit. For a more sedate approach to getting fit, German researchers (Scharhag-Rosenberger, F., Meyer, T., Walitzek, S and Kindremann, W., 2009) ( 2 ), studied 18 untrained subjects, men and women with an average age of 42 years and a BMI of 24.3 (normal weight).
The group completed a one-year-long jogging-walking program consisting on 3 weekly sessions of 45 minutes each.
The benefits of training (heart rate, maximal oxygen intake, running speed) showed up very quickly and improved at a constant rate until roughly 6 months into the program, when a plateau phase began.
After six months you will have to raise the bar and increase the effort to keep on improving your fitness.
Take home point
The benefits of training will show up immediately and increase with time.
More Fitness resources
Each of the following pages provides information, tips and advice on getting into shape, fitness and losing weight:
Why Waist Size Matters
Tips for a Flat Stomach
Cite this article:
A. Whittall. ©2018. Get fit and lean. Patagonia Wellness, 15 Nov. 2018. http://www.patagoniawellness.com/fitness/fit-get-lean.html
Subject: How to get fit and lean. The two pronged approach to getting into shape: (1) diet and (2) exercise. Tips for getting into shape, feel fitter and healthier.
References and Further Reading
(1) J Pearn, (1980). How long does it take to become fit?, Br Med J. 1980 Dec 6; 281(6254): 1522-1524
(2) Scharhag-Rosenberger, F., Meyer, T., Walitzek, S and Kindremann, W., (2009). Time Course of Changes in Endurance Capacity: A 1-yr Training Study, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2009 - Vol 41:5 p 1130-1137, doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181935a11
NHS, (2018). Physical activity guidelines for adults, last reviewed: 30.05.2018, accessed: 01 Nov 2018
Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 - Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, accessed: 01 Nov 2018.