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JAMA Patient Page
December 21, 2005


JAMA. 2005;294(23):3048. doi:10.1001/jama.294.23.3048

Inactivity leads to loss of muscle, obesity, and reduced functional ability. Low physical fitness increases risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Individuals who are physically fit can do more things, have better endurance for activities and tasks, and are healthier than persons who have low fitness. Obesity and low physical fitness are often related, but thin persons are not necessarily physically fit just because they are thin. Even small increases in physical fitness can make a big difference to a person's health. Incorporating small changes into daily activities can slowly and gradually improve fitness, leading to better health. The December 21, 2005, issue of JAMA includes an article about physical fitness and its effects on cardiovascular diseases.

What is fitness?

Five components of fitness include cardiorespiratory (heart and lungs) endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility. Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability to perform sustained physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or running. Muscular strength and endurance are linked and are improved by using weight-bearing exercise, such as weight lifting or using resistance bands. The proportions of muscle, fat, and body water make up body composition. Flexibility is related to range of motion and is improved by gently and consistently stretching muscles and the connective tissues surrounding them.

Benefits of physical fitness

  • Improved sense of well-being

  • Weight loss (increasing muscle mass increases the metabolic rate, and more calories are burned per unit of exercise performed)

  • Reduced risk of diabetes, heart and vascular disease, some types of cancers, and stroke

  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis (thin bones)

  • Improved management of chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, obesity, chronic pain, and lung disorders

Ways to improve your physical fitness

  • Walking or jogging

  • Swimming

  • Bicycle riding

  • Weight-bearing exercise (weight lifting, resistance bands, activity involving the whole body)

  • Stretching (including yoga or tai chi exercises)

  • Participation in active sports such as tennis, basketball, soccer

  • Group exercises

Easy ways to incorporate movement into your day

  • Park the car in the farthest spot from the entrance and walk the extra distance.

  • Get off the bus one stop before your destination and walk the extra distance.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Take walking breaks during the work day.

  • Take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break.

  • Walk a dog or play outside with the kids.

  • Dance to your favorite music.

  • Use housecleaning as an exercise opportunity.

  • Ask a friend, family member, or coworker to walk with you instead of sitting down after a meal.

For more information

Inform yourself

To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on obesity was published in the April 9, 2003, issue.

Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Cancer Institute

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.