Being physically fit is much more than being at a specific weight or looking good in a bathing suit. According to the American Council on Exercise, being fit can lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression. It's also crucial to overall health and can lead to a happier, longer life. To obtain a high level of fitness takes dedication to a long-term, well-rounded exercise program and a healthy diet. Work with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program or diet, especially if you have a health condition.
Balance Your Calories
If you're overweight, eat fewer calories than you burn off so your body can use stored fat. You can lose about a pound per week by creating a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day. Count your calories from foods and beverages using online tools. Then, create a caloric deficit based on how many calories you burn a day, which is based on your weight, height, age, gender and activity level. If you're already at a healthy weight, maintain caloric balance and get the calories your body needs when you increase your exercise intensity.
According to the American Council on Exercise, it takes both cardio and strength training to be fit. Cardio fitness measures your heart's health and its strength as a muscle, and you can improve it by doing exercises that raise your heart rate. Start at your own pace, and increase your intensity as you go along. Choose activities you like so you'll stick to them, whether it's running, tennis, biking or swimming. Strength training will increase your muscle mass, which also boosts your metabolic rate, helping you maintain a healthy weight. Increase the amount of resistance and number of repetitions during workouts as you improve to keep raising your fitness level.
Eat a Balanced, Nourishing Diet
Fitness isn't just about your weight, however. You need a nourishing, balanced diet to be fit, which comes from eating whole foods that give you plenty of nutrients. It's typically better to cook at home and shop in the outer aisles of the grocery store to buy whole foods rather than processed foods, which tend to lack micronutrients. Eat carbs and protein at every meal, and choose healthy fats in place of saturated fats when you can. Foods with saturated fats, like butter and animal fat, contain cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and affect your cardiovascular fitness.
After a few weeks of dedication to an exercise routine and a healthy diet, you'll notice an improvement in your health. But if you want to reach a high level of fitness with lots of muscle tone or mass and stellar cardiovascular fitness, it takes more time. With time, your efforts will add up to amazing results, but you need to stay with your program consistently. To sustain your motivation over the long term, write down the goals you want to achieve and why. Look back at what you wrote whenever you're feeling unmotivated.
Measuring Your Fitness Level
Timing yourself running a mile is a good way to test your cardio fitness level, which you can do by running four times around a track. If you can run a mile under eight minutes you're doing pretty well, and if you're running it under six minutes, your cardio fitness is superb. Taking 10 minutes or longer to run a mile is a sign of poor cardio fitness, personal trainer Scott Laidler notes in a 2013 column for "The Telegraph," but you can improve by doing regular cardio workouts starting at your own pace. You can also test your fitness by how many pushups and pullups you can do. Aim to be able to do 30 to 40 pushups and 15 to 20 pullups.