For the past two weeks many Americans have enjoyed the Olympic Games. Watching the fastest runners and swimmers, the finest gymnasts, and the best teams in the world is both an inspiration and a thrill. It stirs the heart to see the athletic prowess that these young stars can reach. So moved, many people commit to improve their own physical fitness and set goals to achieve that end.
To get fit, people need first to decide what their goals are. The first goal is rehabilitation. Injured athletes, and even injured couch potatoes who wish they were athletes, need to have healthy and normally functioning muscles, bones and nerves, not to mention organs such as heart and lungs, to be fit. How many of us sprain our ankle, strain our back, or bruise our muscles, and when the pain goes away think that we have fully rehabilitated? Some people exercise despite having a bad cold, the stomach flu, or a headache. You might say that the first goal in fitness is to move from abnormal health to normal health.
The second goal in fitness is to optimize health. Many people have normally functioning bodies but still are not in good physical condition. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise five days per week, resistance exercise two days per week, and flexibility exercises three days per week. Such a routine will not produce Olympic champions, or even local tennis club champions, but will provide a good level of fitness for day to day life in most people.
The third goal in fitness is performance. Long distance runners run 50 or more miles per week, in addition to other exercises, to be the best in their sport. Swimmers, cyclists, gymnasts, and other athletes spend hours more practicing to perform at whatever level they need to be competitive. To most military members, “performance” may be limited to successfully doing their jobs, keeping up on unit runs and passing physical fitness tests. To competitive athletes, “performance” may mean practicing their sport 8 hours per day, five or six days per week. Olympians may work at that intensity for decades.
Keep in mind that sometimes high performance impairs fitness. Swimmers who specialize in the butterfly stroke and baseball pitchers can develop shoulder instability. Long distance runners burn so many calories that if their food intake doesn’t increase enough, they can get muscle wasting and brittle bones. One of the most important goals in sports medicine is to help athletes achieve their performance goals without compromising their overall fitness.
While you sit on the couch and watch sports after the Games, think about how to change your lifestyle to improve your personal fitness. Do you have an ankle or knee that has never been quite right since that injury a few years back? Get it checked out and get a personalized rehabilitation plan. Are you pretty normal but just don’t get out and move? Figure out how to change your schedule to make time for exercise and good fitness. Then get with a friend and go for it. Do you want to be an Olympian, or at least champion of next month’s golf tournament at your local course? Talk to a local trainer and sports medicine professional to get a personalized performance plan.
Fitness and prevention are two of the most important topics any of us can learn for our health.