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How Fit is “Fit Enough?”

How fit is "fit enough?"; pictures of women athletes

I don’t blame you for wanting to know the minimum amount of “fit” you can be and still reap the rewards.

That’s what most of us want.

Truth is, it’s not as extreme as a lot of fitness junkies lead you to believe. I have 3 studies that’ll give you an idea of just how fit is fit enough. And I’ll let you in on how to get there.

The Fountain of Youth

Science has officially figured out the secret to living forever.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It’s probably more accurate to say science has caught up to common sense, which says the healthier you are, the better your chances of living a longer life.

Unfortunately, the concept of being healthy has become rather vague.

Fitness “experts” on social media make it seem like the definition of health is the ability to do pull-ups with one arm, while balancing a barbell on your feet, and using your free arm to play the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah on your six pack like a xylophone.

The studies I’m about to show you teach us is that life-extending health is much less complicated, and much more attainable than that.

The Push-up Test

In this first study, they tested how many push-ups people could do at a tempo of 80 beats per minute.

Here’s what they found:

Men who could do 40 or more push-ups were 96% less likely to have a cardiovascular disease event (in a 10 year study) compared to men who could only do 10 or less.

This is interesting because they used a strength/muscle endurance exercise to successfully predict issues with cardiovascular disease.

This is no surprise. Other studies (like this one) also show that strength has its own effect on longevity.

40 push-ups as a marker of health isn’t an easy target, but it’s certainly attainable (I recently had a client go from doing 20 to a new record of 30 in under a month).

Unfortunately, this study didn’t include women, but there’s no doubt strength training is good for women’s health.

I’d estimate the equivalent for a woman is closer to 20 push-ups. It may take a little longer to get there, but it’s still doable. (See this video on how to get started.)

The Sitting-Rising Test

Sit down on the floor and then stand back up. Easy enough, right? Except in this study’s test, if you use your hands or knees to stabilize yourself, you lose points.

Not quite so easy.

Those with low scores were over 5 times more likely to die within the next 6 years than those with high scores (it was ages 51-80, but the results were adjusted for age).

We’re not talking about Cirque Du Soleil type feats of physical ability here. It’s a simple combination of strength and flexibility.

In the study, they found this combination to be “a significant predictor of mortality.”

What this shows us is, if you want to get fit, you shouldn’t ignore either of these elements, but you don’t need superhuman levels of either one.

(If you want to try the test, this article gives a good description of how to do it.)

The Stairs Test

If your hotel room is on the 4th floor, do you take the stairs? Could you take the stairs?

More importantly, how easy would it be for you?

According to this study, if you can quickly get up four flights of stairs (in 45-55 seconds) with no problem, your risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer (among other causes) goes down significantly.

This means we’re now adding the element of cardio to our list of things that increase life-expectancy. However, strength is still a major factor.

You could be a beast on the treadmill and still have trouble sprinting up a few flights of stairs. That’s because the body uses a different energy system for that type of exercise — an energy system that requires a bit of muscle.

So if it’s longevity you’re after, cardio is important, but in conjunction with strength and flexibility.

What to Do

Have you noticed a trend? None of the skills in these studies are things that would make an athlete’s highlight reel, or even their Instagram story.

That doesn’t mean these things are necessarily easy. They just aren’t all that impressive.

It’s all within reach, no matter what shape you’re currently in. You might find you can even do one or two of the tests successfully right now (in which case, it’s important to work to maintain that). Yet they all show a significant connection to overall health.

That’s why, time and time again, we preach mastering the basics.

The strength required in these studies could easily be achieved in a few short resistance training workouts a week (see How Many Days a Week Should You Workout?).

The flexibility that’s needed could be done as part of those same workouts by including some active stretching in your warmups, during your rest periods, or even by focusing on quality of movement in the lifts themselves.

The cardio demands could be achieved in any number of ways, but the important thing to remember is a little bit goes a long way. Taking walks on a regular basis is a solid place to start.

With 2-3 hours a week of less-than-elite levels of activity, you could be well on your way to having a higher quality, and longer lasting life.

In my book, that’s fit enough.


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