How Fit Is Fit Enough?
Everyone knows that fitness is an important part of health. However, other than knowing that we should probably be in better shape, many of us don’t really know what that means. How fit do we really need to be? How fit is healthy enough?
Of course, there is no one answer to this question, since everyone has different goals for themselves. However, there are some guidelines.
Some people want to be in good enough physical shape to reduce their risk of diseases caused by obesity. They may not want or need to become fit enough to compete in a marathon and, while they wouldn't be opposed to having people notice how fit they are, that isn't really their goal. Others just have the common goal of being in reasonably good shape.
If you're interested in finding out what an objective standard of optimal fitness looks like, one place to look is societies where people live the longest and healthiest lives. One television news special from a few years back (The Blue Zones, CBS, 2009) examined places with especially long-lived populations. One of the factors which was common to most of these places is lifelong physical activity, whether by choice or by necessity. There is also a book on the topic, Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner, if you'd like to read further in depth about this study.
Physical activity is fine, but it's also a vague description. What kind of physical activity is needed? Experts in the field say that cardiovascular exercise, and interval training in particular, is the way to go to gain endurance, as well as an ability to handle sudden increases in demand on the cardiovascular system.
So perhaps the question really isn't how fit you should be or how you should achieve this optimal level of health, but rather, how much physical activity do you need to ensure that you can continue to be physically active? Judging from the available data, it seems that the answer is “as much physical activity as you can get.” However, it is about more than how many minutes you can put in on the treadmill. It's really more about how many years of your life you can stay active. So the answer to the question of how fit you need to be may not be the detailed, satisfying answer you were hoping for. But, as far as we know, the best way to stay active is just to stay active. So keep it up and you'll be able to enjoy better health for the rest of your life.