Health, and fitness.
In a discussion of the effects exercise and physical conditioning, it is
necessary to differentiate between health and fitness, and between fitness
and skill. Health, in its narrowest definition, is the absence of disease;
more broadly, it is the capacity of all body organs and systems for
high-level function. Fitness relates to performance and survival.
Usually, but not always, good fitness requires good health. Many exceptions
are seen in sports competition. Sick but intensely motivated and
competitive athletes often win contests and sometimes break world records.
Olympic contestants suffering from infections, dysentery, influenza, fever,
and broken bones often turn in superior performances. Conversely, very
healthy people who are not conditioned are unfit for strenuous occupations.
Again, skilled performance usually implies good fitness and good health but
there are too many exceptions to make the generalization acceptable. The
superbly skilled basketball player who has less strength and endurance than
his opponents can sometimes handily outscore them. The drama of the sick,
wounded, and nearly exhausted star football player who reenters the game
during the dying minutes and scores the winning points is played out
regularly. This is not to say that the highly skilled player would not do
better if he were more healthy and more fit; it is only to indicate that
skill is a separate attributed.
In human beings, the extent of an individual's continuing
physical, emotional, mental, and social ability to the cope with his
Such a definition, gust one of many that are possible, has its drawbacks.
The rather fragile individual who stays "well" within the ordinary
environment of his or her existence may succumb to a heart attack from heavy
shoveling after a snowstorm; or sea-level dweller may move to a new home in
the mountains where the atmosphere has a lower content of oxygen, and suffer
from shortness of breath and anemia until his red blood cell count adjusts
itself to the altitude. Thus even by this definition, the conception of good
health must involve some allowance for change in the environment.
Bad heath can be defined as the presence of disease, good heath as its
absence particularly the absence of continuing disease, because the person
afflicted with a sudden attack of seasickness, for example, may not be
thought as having, lost his good health as a result of such mishap. The same
might apply to a pregnant woman, perfectly healthy in the afternoons and
evenings but suffering from morning sickness a few hours each day.
Actually, there is a wide variable area between health and disease. Only
a few examples are necessary to illustrate the point: (1) it physiologically
normal for an individual, 15 to 20 minutes after eating a meal, to have a
high sugar content remains elevated two hours later this condition is
abnormal and may be indicative of disease. (2) A "healthy" individual may
have developed an allergy, perhaps during early childhood, to a single
specific substance. If he never again comes in contact with the antigen that
causes the allergy, all other factors remaining normal, he will remain in
that state of health. Should he, however, come in contact with that
allergen, even 20 or 30 years later, he may suffer anything from a milled
allergic reaction a simple rash to sever anaphylactic shock, coma, or even
death, depending upon the circumstances. (3) An apparently healthy
individual may imbibe a relatively large amount of alcoholic beverage. After
the alcohol reaches certain in his bloodstream he exhibits certain
behavioral changes, and his condition is referred to as intoxication . During
this period, and usually the morning after, he cannot be considered as being
in good health. He may regain his normal heath in a few days or less; but
frequent repetition of this performance, or daily ingestion of large amount
of alcohol, even when no apparent behavioral or hangover effects are noted,
insidiously converts a condition of good health to bad heath sometimes
irreversibly. Thus it can be seen that, unlike disease, which is frequently
recognizable, tangible, and rather defined, health is a somewhat nebulous
condition, and somewhat difficult to define.
Moreover, physical condition and healthcare not synonymous terms. A
seven-foot-tall basketball player may be in excellent physical condition
(although outside the range of normality for height) but may or may not be
in good health depending, for example, on whether or not he has fallen
victim to an attack of influenza. The one-armed gymnast, the color-blind
skater, or the pianist born blind all may be in good health; but are they in
good physical condition? Again, this depends upon definitions, and
There are further problems in settling upon a definition of human health. A
person may be physically strong, resistant to infection ,able to cope with
physical hardship and other features of his physical environment, and may be
considered unhealthy if his mental state, as measured by his behavior, is
deemed unsound. What is mental health? Some say that a person is mental
healthy if he is able to function reasonably well. Others hold that a person
is healthy mentally if his behavior is like that of a majority of
his fellows. A third group makes comparisons with an ideal; according to these
physicians mental healthfulness may be approached but not attained. Still
another concept stresses the changes in a person's behavior that take place
with the passage of time as criteria of his mental health.
In the face of this confusion, it is most useful, perhaps, to define
health, good or bad, in terms that can be measured, can be interpreted with
respect to the ability of the individual at the time of measurement to
function in a normal manner and with respect to the likelihood of imminent
disease. These measurements can be found in tables of "normal values"
printed in textbooks of clinical medicine, diagnosis, and other references of
this type. when an individual is given a health examination, the examination
is likely to include a series of tests. Some of these tests are more
descriptive than quantitative and can indicate the presence of disease in a
seemingly healthy person. such tests include the electrocardiogram to detect
some kinds of heart disease; electromyogram for primary muscle disorders;
liver and gall bladder function tests; and many types of X-ray techniques
for determining disease or malfunction of internal organs.
Other tests give numerical results (or results that can be assigned
numerical values such as photometric color determinations) that can be
interpreted by the examiner. These are physical and chemical tests, including
blood, urine and cerebral spinal fluid analyses. The results of the tests
are compared with normal values; and the physician receives clues as to the
health of his patient and, if the values are abnormal , for the methods of
improving his heath.
A major difficulty in the interpretation of test results is that of
biological variability. Almost without exception these normal values for
variables are means or adjusted or adjusted means of large group
measurements. To give these values significance hence the frequent use of the
word standard rather than normal in describing them_ they must be considered
as lying somewhere near the center point of a 95 percent; i.e., the
so-called ordinary range or, with reservations, the range from normal to the
upper and lower borderline limits. Thus, the 2.5 percent below the lower
limit and the 2.5 percent above the upper limit of the 95 percent range are
considered areas of abnormality or, perhaps, illness. Some areas have wide
95 percent ranges blood pressure, for example, may vary considerably
throughout the day (e.g., during exercise, fright, or anger) and remain
within its range of normality. Other values have ranges so narrow that they
are termed physiological constants. an individual's body temperature, for
example, rarely varies (when taken at the same anatomical site) by more than
a degree (from time of rising until bedtime) without being indicative of
infection or other illness.
General physical fitness is the capacity of the body to perform work, to
resist disease and infection, and to resist the physical stresses imposed by
such things as heat, cold, atmospheric pressure changes at altitude or under
water, and accelerative forces of jolts and vibrations. General physical
fitness is, thus, the capability of the individual to dominate his usual
environment, and the degree of fitness that one requires is related to the
degree of stress that he must be able to overcome. The Samoan who lives
peacefully in a warm climate with abundant food at arm's reach survives well
with a low degree of general fitness. If the Samoan were to be transported
suddenly to the frozen north, he would be unfit for the rigors of trapping.
To become fit as a northern trapper, the Samoan would need to acquire
specific physical fitness; that is, the special body structures and
functions required to perform under the new set of unusually demanding
conditions. Specific physical fitness, then, is a readiness of each system of
the body to meet special demands. If unusually heavy loads must be moved,
strength fitness must be acquired. Muscles must be strengthened and
nerve muscle coordination improved. If work is continuous, endurance fitness
is needed. Short efforts of maximum intensity lasting less than 10 seconds
require anaerobic fitness, the ability of the body to work without oxygen.
Exhaustive efforts of longer duration require aerobic fitness, the ability
to consume oxygen efficiently. The ability to make sudden changes in
posture requires orthostatic fitness. Orthostatic fitness is dependent on
how well the blood circulation can adjust to a quick change of posture such
as standing up after laying down.
Rapidity of movement, accuracy, and agility require speed fitness, an
attribute of the brain and the sensory and motor nervous systems. Limiting
rapidity of movement is relaxation fitness. The ability to elongate muscle
quickly. Relaxation fitness includes ability voluntarily to reduce excess
tension in the nerve-muscle system.
The benefits of exercising are numerous. People who are physically fit are
better able to carry out ordinary activities without fatigue or exhaustion
and to resist disease, infection, and undue physical deterioration. Among
adults, fitness of the heart muscles is often the major concern, and this
can be achieved by raising the heart rate for brief periods. Jogging,
sprinting, or exercising vigorously will achieve this, but even climbing
several flights of stairs can accomplish the same purpose.
Physical conditioning is also important for individuals who require special
skills in coordination, strength, and endurance. Athletes, for example,
usually develop their muscles more fully. In most cases, the muscle tissues
simply become harder and stronger as more fibers in the tissue are brought
into use. Muscles do not increase in size unless they are deliberately
forced to by repetitive contractions.
Physical activity is specially important during youth ,in order for the body
to reach optimal size and functioning capacity in adulthood. There is
however, no evidence that exercise prolongs life. Former athletes do not
live longer than nonathletes nor are they immune to heart disease. The
benefits of exercise cannot be carried for more than a few months or years.
Even athletes who have attained a high level of conditioning will regress
rapidly to a pre-training level once exercising stops.
The desirable amount of activity for fitness varies from person to person
according to age, build, health, and gender. Too much exercise can cause
wear on the joints, leading to particular disease in later life, but this is
a condition found most commonly in top-ranking athletes. The pitfall of most
beginners is over exercising. Many people experience stiffness after the
initial day of exercise, but this harmless transient. Those who are
overweight, past middle age, or suffer from heart disease should consult a
physician prior to starting any exercise program.
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