Many of us have misconceptions about what it means to be physically fit. For instance, some people think that they need to weigh a certain amount, run a marathon, or be able to bench press twice their body weight at the fitness center to be considered fit. If you fall into these descriptions – good for you! But as far as physical fitness, you may still be lacking.

The truth is that physical fitness is much more broad than just your weight or your performance at a single athletic activity. Here’s a good working definition for physical fitness:

  • a general state of health and well-being that includes the ability to efficiently perform every day work and leisure activities and resist disease.

Using this definition, it’s wrong to assume that being a certain weight or having big muscles means you’re fit. Fitness is more about your physical ability to meet the demands of everyday life. Based on the Department of Health and Human Service’s definition, five key areas are equally important to achieving physical fitness.

Body Composition

It’s not so much about how you much you weigh, but what you weight consists of in terms of bone, muscle, and fat. Appearance alone, or even BMI scales (which don’t account for athletic builds) can be deceiving. Some people may look overweight but still fall within a healthy body fat composition, while others who look fit may have a higher percentage of body fat. The recommended range for women is anywhere from 8 to 35% and anywhere from 5 to 29 % for men.

So, how do you know how much body fat you have? Personal trainers and fitness organizations carry tools like tape measures, calipers, and specialized scales; doctors and nutritionists can also test body fat for you.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance

That’s a mouthful, but it basically means your ability to engage in activities like climbing stairs, running, biking, or walking fast without getting easily exhausted. A cardio fitness analysis given by a trainer or fitness center staff member can help you evaluate your heart rate, breathing rate, and endurance.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is a measure of how long your muscles can last before the point of fatigue, whether holding one position or repeating it over and over.  A few tests for muscular endurance include how many sets you can repeat with a certain weight at the fitness gym, or how many pull-ups or push-ups you can do in one sitting. Even though we think in terms of working out, muscular endurance is practical for everyday tasks like carrying groceries, mowing the lawn, or holding a child.

Muscular Strength

Muscular strength is defined as the ability of a muscle to exert force during an activity: your max bench press or deadlift, your top resistance level on a machine, or your ability to pick up an object from the ground. Many of us have strength imbalances due to our modern lifestyles. For instance, you might be able to bench press a large weight, but have comparatively weak glutes or hamstrings from sitting at a desk all day.


Without flexibility, all the muscle or cardiovascular endurance in the world wouldn’t help you.

Flexibility is the measurement of the range of movement around each joint. While you don’t have to be a yogi or a gymnast, maintaining good flexibility with stretching and range-of-motion exercises will protect your muscles and bones from injury.

As you can see, there are many aspects that go into a true assessment of physical fitness. Which of these are you strongest and weakest in? Work on your weaknesses and you’ll be improving your overall fitness for a healthier, more active lifestyle.