The Six Pillars of Health and Fitness (part 1)
If you are to ever read one health and fitness article, then this should be it.
The entire purpose of this article is to save you from spending copious hours trawling through the internet trying to find answers on how to start your health and fitness journey.
Using our unique knowledge and combined 45+ years’ industry expertise, we’ve written this article to help you get on the lifelong path of health and fitness. That way, you can save sweating it out for the gym!
What Should My Fitness Journey Look Like?
Health and fitness will look a little different to every single one of us. Some of us exercise to look good; some of us exercise to feel good. You may be exercising to combat / prevent disease, whereas others are exercising to compete in sports.
Whatever the reason behind your own personal fitness journey, most of us aren’t getting it right.
Typically, we are only focusing on one thing, whether that’s smashing out weight training four times a week, running every day or going for a walk each day.
There are six fundamental pillars to health & fitness that every single one of us, no matter our age, gender or fitness level, should be trying to include in our health and fitness regime. Not only do these six things help us be the healthiest and happiest versions of ourselves, they also keep our training varied and interesting. On top of this, a health and fitness regime that includes all of these six pillars brings the best long-term results.
1. Muscular Strength and Endurance
When we think about muscular strength and endurance training, we often think about bulging biceps or quads that look like they are about to burst! However, although resistance training can be used to give us a certain aesthetic look, it is incredibly beneficial for much more than this.
By training our muscles for strength and endurance, our daily life becomes easier. We can bend down to pick things up with greater ease, carry the shopping home without having to stop every five meters, or be able to chase after the kids a bit more! We will also improve our bone strength, and strengthen the joints and the connective tissues that hold our body in place.
In fact, the NHS recommends that we should be doing strength-based activities that work all the major muscle groups AT LEAST twice a week. And, what they mean by strength training is using significant resistance to fatigue your muscles. If you want to get strong and make a lasting positive change, it’s no use using the same pair of 1kg dumbbells for months at a time!
So, for all you cardio bunnies or Pilates lovers… it’s time to get on that squat rack!
2. Cardiovascular Fitness
Cardiovascular fitness is essentially the strength of our lungs and heart. It is the ability of these two organs to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. Arguably, cardiovascular fitness is the most important pillar of health and fitness. If our heart and lungs aren’t working, then there’s a very slim chance that anything else is working too!
As part of our health and fitness programme, we should be aiming to work our heart in various different heart rate zones. These zones can’t really be achieved in our daily activities. For instance, walking (unless done at a VERY fast pace) will not work your heart adequately enough.
The NHS recommends that we should be aiming to get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. Whilst doing this type of activity, you should feel like you could say a couple of sentences, but would struggle to hold a conversation. Alternatively, we should be aiming to get 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. During vigorous activity, we shouldn’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath! So although going for a long walk with friends at a pace where you can hold a conversation is better than sitting on the couch, as far as making vital improvements to your heart and lungs, it just won’t cut it.
Mobility describes how easily we can move our body from A to B. It describes how we can effectively and safely perform the movements that are required for our everyday functional living.
Having good mobility makes our day-to-day tasks easier, especially as we age. The more mobile we are, the less effort we require from our bodies every time we move. We are also less prone to injuries if we are more mobile and are therefore better able to train harder. As a knock-on effect of this, our performance in other areas (e.g. sports) improves too.
The bottom line is that mobility is often overlooked. However, it is absolutely essential in order for our body to achieve bigger and better things. What is important in our health and fitness regime, is that we pick activities that encourage us to move across all planes of motion. We should be side bending, rotating and hip hinging (to name just a few) as part of our workouts. Without doing this, our range of motion will only improve in one plane of motion (the direction we most use during our one chosen physical activity), which could reduce our overall mobility and performance.
Take Olympic power lifters as an example. These types of athletes spend so much time squatting or deadlifting, which increases their mobility through the sagittal plane. These people are strong, but have you ever seen them try to side lunge? Their mobility doesn’t allow them to move efficiently this way.
4. Posture and Body Awareness
Our posture describes the way in which we hold our body. Poor posture means that our muscles are out of alignment. Some may become tighter or shorter, whilst others become longer and looser. This disproportionate muscle alignment can actually wreak havoc on our joints by shifting their position. Office jobs, carrying children or even sleeping in strange positions can all cause detrimental postural changes.
There are numerous benefits to having a good posture, such as: reduced lower back pain, fewer headaches, decreased wearing of joint surfaces, increased lung capacity and improved circulation as you’re not compressing any vital organs.
Body awareness follows on from posture. It is our attentiveness as to how we hold ourselves in our day-to-day lives, and in our physical activity. It’s the ability to understand what muscles we are working and utilising in each movement we do. It’s also being aware of when our muscles, bones or joints are tired and deciding to not smash ourselves to bits each time we workout! Having great body awareness means we can move better, train harder and be healthier.
5. Balance and coordination
Our balance is our ability to maintain positions and react to forces that may throw us off balance. Coordination is the ability to smoothly execute a movement through a space. Essentially, they come hand in hand. You can’t really have good coordination without good balance, and vice versa.
Balance and coordination are MASSIVELY overlooked within the entire fitness industry. Which is rather surprising, considering these two things are so very important in literally every single thing we do. Regardless of what activities we are carrying out, we need balance and coordination to execute them.
Now, what is critical is that our balance and coordination gets more and more important as we age. A survey by Age UK found that MILLIONS of older people are worried about falling over, with 4.3 million (36%) saying it is the top of their concerns. To top this off, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75.
So, as we will all age, we all need to be including balance and coordination work into our fitness routine in order to reduce the chance of falling later in life. We see way too many older adults gravitate towards the weight machines in the gym, where sitting on a machine (which guides their movement) is not going to prevent their deterioration in balance and coordination.
6. Injury prevention
No matter what we do or how we do it, if we don’t do it properly then we run the risk of having an injury and our entire health and fitness journey comes to a swift halt.
This sixth pillar ties everything together. The idea is that whatever we do, it should have longevity… And longevity means avoiding injury! If we’re smashing out six HIIT workouts a week then it is most likely not going to be sustainable long-term. You need to incorporate something else. Just like if we’re not working on our balance and coordination, then our muscles are likely to compensate and become overloaded and stressed, resulting in an injury.
Similarly, repetitive cardiovascular exercise can cause injuries. Take cyclists for example - sure they hammer out the cardiovascular training, but this means that their legs are disproportionately worked. So yes, these athletes are physically fit, but they are often less mobile and more prone to injuries (lower limb for overuse and upper limb / torso for underuse) than the everyday person.
How do I get all of these six pillars into my exercise regime?!
You might be feeling a little overwhelmed wondering how on earth you’re supposed to include all of this in your regime.
Well… don’t panic!
Check out part two of our 6 pillars of health and fitness article where we will:
- List various popular physical activities, whilst discussing how effective each are at covering all 6 pillars
- Help you choose the best activity or the best combination of ‘complementary’ activities to ensure you cover all the 6 pillars
- Reveal the one physical activity which covers ALL 6 pillars, and the good news is that it is simple to do!