Physical Fitness - How to keep physical activity a permanent part of one's life

Set Goals

Setting goals for staying physically fit is important. These goals can be as small as making sure to do some kind of activity three times a week and as large as wanting to join the ski team. The key to successful goal-setting is making small goals that can be achieved daily and when added up can equal the accomplishment of a long-term goal. For example, if a person wants to start playing basketball, he or she can start with the short-term goal of shooting baskets with friends every week. The long-term goal may be to join the basketball team at school.

BE REALISTIC. When setting goals, a person should pay attention to how realistic the goals are. It doesn't make sense for a person to focus on trying to be a successful surfer if one doesn't live near water. Nor is it good for someone who is currently inactive to suddenly try to take up long-distance running. This will only lead to frustration. It's smart to take smaller steps in the quest for fitness, based on a person's schedule, skill, and access to different kinds of activities.


Extreme sports are becoming more and more popular among young people. They offer the thrill of facing difficult challenges and overcoming obstacles. Extreme sports get the heart racing and put the body and mind to the test in the face of danger. With the many physical and mental benefits of extreme sports comes the risk of injuries. It's essential to work with a trained instructor and use the necessary safety equipment when doing any kind of extreme sport.

Extreme sports are not for everyone. However, those looking for bigger challenges in their quest for physical fitness have many options, including rock and ice climbing, surfing, white-water rafting, wakeboarding, water-skiing, mountain-bike racing, bicycle stunt-riding, skydiving, skateboarding, and extreme snow-boarding. There are many camps around the country that teach extreme sports to kids and teenagers. Anyone can find the nearest extreme sports camp or more general information by typing "extreme sports" on any Internet search engine. There are thousands of websites devoted to these exciting activities.


Making realistic goals does not mean making only easy goals. Some should be challenging. This will increase feelings of accomplishment when the challenging goals are met. Challenging goals will also help maintain interest in one or more activities. Anything can become boring after awhile. By tossing in some challenges, interest and enjoyment will remain high. Challenging goals will also allow someone to improve his or her skill at an activity.

STICK WITH IT! Being active should be a lifelong pursuit. The human body is made to move, and when it doesn't, it suffers. Goals should be assessed every so often to make sure they are still important in one's life. The goals that are no longer important should be changed. A person's interests change throughout life and so should goals. As goals are met, new ones should be established, and a person should remember to reward him- or herself after successfully completing a goal.

Keeping Fitness Fun and Safe

GET A CHECK-UP. Being fit involves physical activity and exercise as well as a good diet. A person who is just starting to become more active should start slowly. Also, before anyone starts to become more active than usual, a complete check-up from a physician is necessary. This will help a person

A young man shows off his skills at an extreme bike-riding exhibition. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
A young man shows off his skills at an extreme bike-riding exhibition. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

learn how to be active if there is an existing health condition or injury, as well as be aware of how much one can and cannot do.

GUARD AGAINST INJURY. As important as it is to be physically active, it's also important to stay safe while being active. The first step in keeping fitness safe is wearing proper equipment. When playing on the street, biking, running, or in-line skating in the evening or on overcast days, reflective gear should be worn. Protective gear, which may include helmets, elbow and wrist guards, and gloves depending on the activity, are all necessary for biking, in-line skating, and for extreme sports, such as snowboarding.

Whether running or practicing yoga, Madonna works out faithfully. (Photograph by Kathy Willens. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.)
Whether running or practicing yoga, Madonna works out faithfully. (Photograph by
Kathy Willens. AP/Wide World Photos
. Reproduced by permission.)


Ray Kybartas is a fitness trainer who helps teach others how to keep fitness a part of everyday life. His most famous client is pop star Madonna. In an introduction for Kybartas's 1997 book Fitness Is Religion: Keep the Faith, Madonna relates that during her first workout with Kybartas she realized "it was possible to exercise and enjoy yourself." She also points out, "There are no rules. All you need is dedication," and that "the goal has been much more about peace of mind than having a perfect body."

Kybartas's philosophy about fitness, which has greatly influenced Madonna, is that it should be a way of life. Like religion, Kybartas writes, fitness requires a lifelong commitment. This commitment will result in better health, both physically and mentally. A lifelong pursuit of fitness may seem daunting or overwhelming, but, according to Kybartas, once the commitment is made, most people look forward to being physically active and exercising on a regular basis because it makes them feel so good. One of Kybartas's suggestions for keeping fitness in your life is "doing something you enjoy…. If youwant to walk, run, dance, row, swim, cycle, inline skate, cross-country ski, practice yoga—whatever—then do it."

FRIENDS MAKE IT FUN. Whenever possible, it is always safest to play or do physical activities with friends. Some activities and sports require that they be done by more than one person, such as basketball or street hockey. Other activities, such as biking, running, doing gymnastics, or walking can be and often are done alone. This is okay as long as these activities are carried out in safe, well-lit places. Isolated places, such as empty parks or roads, can leave a person at risk for many dangers. Taking familiar paths when walking or running and doing activities with other people around lessens danger from strangers. It also makes it easier to get help quickly if an injury occurs. A person taking a walk or going for a jog should let others know where he or she is headed.

TALK TO A PRO. Before anyone gets involved in an exercise such as weight training, a professional trainer should be consulted. This will assure that a person is using proper form and following a healthy training program. The same is true for extreme sports, such as snowboarding and rock climbing. This is because these activities usually involve a certain degree of danger and require safety equipment and training.

Beach volleyball, basketball, or street hockey are easy games to throw together with just a few friends. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Beach volleyball, basketball, or street hockey are easy games to throw together with just a few friends. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

Dangers of Too Much Exercise

There are wonderful rewards for exercising: physical fitness and good mental health. However, a person can exercise too much and cause health problems. Some athletes are even dying from exercising too long and hard. Everyone should be aware of the dangers of exercise when beginning or maintaining a physical fitness program.

GIVE YOUR BODY A REST. A body is not made to be on the go all the time. It needs to rest. While exercise is good, it does tire the body. Overdoing exercise can result in feeling tired, weak, sore, or irritable. A person shouldn't exercise more than six days a week. If one feels tired or sore during or after being physically active, those are signals to rest.

OVERHEATING. Like a car, bodies can overheat. It is easy to overheat if a person is active on a hot day. A person should try not to exercise outside in very high temperatures. If one does, one should drink a lot of water, wear well-ventilated clothing, and pay attention to how the body is reacting to the heat.

Overheating should not be ignored. The symptoms of overheating can include cramps, nausea, tingling and clammy skin, and can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Signs of heat exhaustion include sweating a lot, skin that is clammy and cool, and a pulse that is rapid and weak. It is important for anyone experiencing these symptoms to get out of the heat, lie down, and drink water. Heat stroke is a more serious condition that causes the body to stop sweating and overheat dangerously. A person will feel confused and dizzy, and the skin will become red, dry, and hot. Medical attention is necessary for anyone who suffers from heat stroke. As soon as it starts, a person should stop exercising, get out of the heat, and drink water.


Walkmans and other portable radio and CD-players are very popular with people who are physically active. While getting into shape, they listen along to their favorite tunes. Music can help motivate people into walking a bit farther, playing a bit longer, or pushing themselves just a tiny bit harder. However, when a portable radio is played too loudly, a person may not hear what is being said or done around her, such as a person yelling or a car beeping its horn. It is important, then, to keep the volume low enough so that one is aware of his surroundings, which can prevent injury and lessen the threat of danger from strangers.

INJURIES. Exercising too much can cause injuries. It is easy to worsen slight injuries if a person doesn't pay attention to soreness or pain. As soon as a person experiences discomfort while exercising, he or she should stop and the injured area should be rested. Time should be taken for the injured area to heal before exercising again. However, depending on the seriousness of the injury, a person may continue to exercise as long as the focus is on exercising other parts of the body. For example, if the injury is in the shoulder, a person may jog or skate to avoid using the shoulder. Working different areas of the body on different days is helpful in properly resting the body throughout a fitness program.

Some common injuries associated with exercise and sports include strains, sprains, shin splints, stress fractures, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and runner's knee. Strains occur when muscles or tendons (tissue that attaches muscles to bones) tear as they are stretched beyond their limit, and sprains happen when ligaments (tissue that holds bones together) are stretched too far or torn. Shin splints, or pain along the shin, occur when muscles along the shin are damaged, and stress fractures, or small cracks in bones, may happen when bones are stressed by intense exercise. Inflammation of a tendon is called tendinitis. This condition commonly affects the tendons in the hands, upper arm, or heel.

Some injuries, such as tennis elbow and runner's knee, have names that are associated with the sport in which the injury is common. However, one can still suffer from tennis elbow or runner's knee even if one is not a tennis player or runner. Tennis elbow occurs when tendons at the elbow are damaged. Tendons that move the wrist either forward or backward may be affected. Runner's knee is when the kneecap, which normally moves up and down during movement without touching another bone, rubs against the end of the thigh bone as a person walks or runs.

To help prevent injuries, a person should always warm up before exercising and cool down afterward. Warming up means starting out slow for the first ten minutes of exercise. This allows blood flow to increase in the muscles, which warms up the muscles and makes them more flexible. Cooling down means slowing down gradually after exercising. This will let blood flow from the areas that were being worked to other parts of the body, especially the head, which will reduce the chance of dizziness or fainting following a hard workout. A proper cool-down will also help keep muscles from getting too stiff.

Another way of helping to prevent injury is for a person to vary the kinds of physical activity he or she does. This allows different parts of the body to be used so the same parts are not always being stressed. Also, more parts of the body will get stronger, which will contribute to total body fitness. [ See also Chapter 8: Preventive Care.]

EXERCISE ADDICTION. Looking forward to exercise and feeling good about the effects of exercise on the body is normal. Exercise feels great and provides people with more energy and increases self-esteem. However, some people use exercise as a way to purge the body of calories to try to become thinner. This is considered an eating disorder. People who suffer from exercise addiction, or compulsive exercising, are not exercising to become physically fit. Instead, they are exercising to try to obtain the ideal body shape. However, the ideal body shape is an unrealistic and impossible goal.


R.I.C.E. is a suggested way of treating most exercise- or sports-related injuries. Each letter stands for a certain part of treatment.

R est. Rest gives an injury time to heal.

I ce. Ice should be applied to an injury in order to relieve pain and swelling.

C ompression. A bandage should be wrapped around an injury for support and to help limit swelling.

E levation. The injured area should be elevated to keep fluid from collecting there.

If the pain or swelling is intense, a person should seek medical attention.

Every person is born with a certain genetic makeup that will determine one's body shape. If the body that a person is striving for is not possible, that person will be disappointed and most likely engage in unhealthy behavior, such as improper dieting and overexercising. The best approach to exercise is to use it to become physically fit and maintain health. This approach will produce the body shape that is right for each person. [ See also exercise addiction section in Chapter 13: Eating Disorders.]

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