Physical Therapy & Getting Fit
By: Dyan Quesada MPT, ATC
At one time or another, most of us have said "I need to get in shape, or I need to get fit." What does it really mean to be fit?" Does it mean fitting into the size three dress we wore in high school, or running five miles in a certain amount of time? According to the American Physical Therapy Association, fitness is defined as:
An ongoing state of health whereby all systems of the body are conditioned to withstand physical stress and are able to perform at an optimum level without injury. A person who is physically fit has good posture; flexible and strong muscles; an efficient heart and healthy lungs; a good ratio of body fat to lean body mass; and good balance.
Being fit, then is a constant state of being, not a "quick fix fad diet." Physical therapists take a "total body approach" when defining fitness. The six elements of fitness are:
- Aerobic Capacity is an index of your cardiovascular system’s ability to transport oxygen to working muscles, where the oxygen is used as fuel to produce energy for movement. One way to measure the efficiency of your aerobic capacity is by taking your heart rate during cardiovascular exercises. (We will discuss this next newsletter.) Examples of cardiovascular exercise are: walking, running, swimming, cycling, and aerobic dance.
- Posture is assessed by having a physical therapist evaluate your body structure for any malalignments in the arms, legs, head, neck, and trunk. Even a small imbalance in your body structure (e.g. shoulders slouching forward) can lead to injury, if the body performs repetitive movements. A therapist will address any problem by suggesting specific stretches and exercises to correct the malalignment.
- Body Composition is the ratio of body fat to lean body mass (bones and muscles.) This is measured either by underwater weighing, or more conveniently, with a skin caliper. It is a more accurate way to determine your body composition than weighing yourself, because muscle weighs more than fat. It is very possible to have a "skinny-looking" person be "overfat." The ideal range of body fat is approximately 15 to 22 percent for females, and 10 to 15 percent for males. Athletes typically have lower body fat percentages.
- A physical therapist evaluates balance to determine if you have any neurological problems. Imagine the consequences if someone with impaired balance embarks on a fitness program that places them at risk for a fall.
- Flexibility, although as important as the other fitness elements, is probably the most commonly ignored element. Physical therapists perform range of motion tests for the entire body to determine if any muscles are shortened. Specific stretches are given to prevent an injury (e.g. a muscle tear.)
- Strength is the element that allows you to exert force and control movement. This is evaluated by a series of resistance tests to determine any muscle weaknesses.
A fitness program is recommended for all ages. If starting a fitness program, it is necessary to check with you doctor to determine if you have any medical conditions. A physical therapist can then evaluate you and design a program that is ideal for you. The end result will be a "fit person for life."