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Health and Fitness

What is health and fitness?

Health is a state of total mental, physical and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.

Fitness is the ability to meet the demands of the environment.

The difference can be illustrated by athletes who over-train their bodies and weaken their immune system that makes them more susceptible to illness. Being fit may not help you live longer, but it can make you feel healthier, mentally and physically, for as long as you do live.

When you are training for a particular sport, you must ensure that you practice the skills of that sport and follow a fitness regime that is specific to that sport. Physical fitness can be divided into two groups, health-related and skill-related fitness.

Types of fitness: health-related

Health related fitness is what everyone should have whether they play a sport or not. Keeping the body fit for health incorporates the following components:

Cardiovascular fitness

Requires the heart and blood vessels to supply the working muscles with oxygen for long periods of time.


Is normally measured by the amount of weight the muscles can lift, or applying a force against a resistance.


Is an important part of fitness that we need to keep into our old age. Babies have a natural suppleness and can suck their toes (not that as a teenager you would probably want to do this still), we lose flexibility as we grow older. We should always remember to warm up before competition to stretch our muscles and tendons.

Muscular endurance

Is the ability of the muscle to work for long periods of time without tiring. A marathon runner is an extreme case of a person who has muscular endurance in the leg muscles (Hamstrings and Gastrocnemius in particular).

Types of fitness: skill-related


Is the ability to change the direction of the body quickly. Goalkeepers and gymnasts are good examples of people who have this ability.


Is the ability to perform a movement or cover a distance in a short period of time. It is not just leg speed, that a sprinter would have, but athletes throwing a javelin require arm speed as well.

Reaction time

Is the time it takes to respond to a stimulus. The stimulus could be a starting pistol, or a ball being returned over the net in tennis, or a goalkeeper moving to get her body in line with the ball to save a shot in hockey, or a slip fielder catching a ball. In a car, the driver is reacting all the time to different stimuli and poor reaction time could lead to a crash.

Is the ability to keep upright while you are standing still or moving. We naturally think of gymnasts balancing on their hands or on a beam, but we all have to balance when we are standing or riding a bike. In football, when we are dribbling a ball, an opponent may shoulder charge us. We need to shift our body weight to prevent us falling over. We have all tripped up; and to stop ourselves falling over we have to move our centre of gravity (centre of mass), quickly.


In simple terms this is "strength x speed" or doing strength movements quickly. A shot putter uses power when moving a shot from his/her neck. A high jumper needs power in his/her legs to lift their body, vertically, over the bar. A weight lifter powers the bar up over his head.


Is the ability to use different senses and body parts together. Hand/eye co-ordination is needed when hitting a moving ball in tennis, cricket and baseball. Foot/eye co-ordination is needed when volleying a football.

Body Fat

Another facet of health is maintaining a good body fat percentage. It can be difficult to reach a good level of fitness in the above areas if you are carrying extra weight. It can also be difficult to reach a good level of fitness if your body is underweight, not storing enough energy to keep you going. Being underweight can also mean that the body does not build muscle tone, and can cause joint injuries as fat pads cushion the joints. You can measure, with skinfold calipers, the amount of our body weight which is fat.

We all differ in shape and size, but the average acceptable body fat percentage for a male is 15%, and for a woman 25%. That means that if a woman weighs 60kgs, then 15kgs of her body weight should be fat. A woman naturally has more body fat than a man to help her body during pregnancy.

Keeping body fat under control can be very difficult for a lot of people, and fortunes are made devising new "diets" because more people are overweight in this country than ever before. There is also a fear of fat that is causing some people, women and girls especially, to stay dangerously underweight. The only way to stay an appropriate weight is to keep a balance between food intake and the calories we burn.

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