Your Fitness Plan Part 1: General Health
In previous articles, I presented the different kinds of exercise and I discussed the importance of setting specific fitness goals in order to make efficient progress. The goals I presented included general health & quality of life, weight loss, size, power, strength, and physical performance (e.g. for sports). In this article, I will look at the most general one, i.e. fitness for general health and quality of life, and present you with a template that will get you well on your way towards your own fitness plan. In Part 2: Specific Fitness Goals, I will look at how to modify this template for weight loss, size, strength, etc.
Fitness consists of two broad areas, health and performance. To be healthy and to perform well in a physical activity, several factors come into play. These are:
- Proper nutrition, tailored to your fitness lifestyle
- Regular exercise, tailored for your specific goals
- Sleep: both in terms of quantity and quality
- Environmental/personal factors: e.g. your work schedule, your personal relationships, etc.
Environmental/personal factors affect us in both positive and negative ways. They may limit our time, provide us with useful resources, cause us stress, or provide motivation. Their importance should not be underestimated, but since they differ from person to person, the rest of this article will look at the first three.
Below I will examine what an ideal fitness plan might look like for the purpose of optimizing your health and quality of life.
Nutrition for Health & Fitness
The right nutrition is at the heart of a fitness plan. This is why we devoted an entire section to this on Fitness-Crazy. The most important element of a long-term nutritional plan is not to regard the changes you make as temporary. Think of it as a lifestyle change where you slowly replace unhealthy foods in favor of more wholesome options, and where you regard what you eat as fuel for your body.
Think of it as a lifestyle change where you slowly replace unhealthy foods in favor of more wholesome options…
Step 1: Determine your caloric needs. There are some formulas you can use to do this, but they are beyond the scope of this article. To learn how to calculate your calories, check out Calculate Daily Calorie Intake. The easiest way however is to use our very own Daily Calorie Calculator.
Please note that whichever method you use, these are rough estimates. Trial and error is then necessary for you to identify what calorie level you normally require to maintain your current weight (at different activity levels). It is not crucial to always have a pinpoint accurate number, but a close approximation is necessary so that you can estimate your nutritional requirements in step 2 below.
Step 2: Determine your macronutrient requirements. Macronutrients refer to carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. The exact macronutrient ratio can vary, but for most people a 40-30-30 distribution works well.
Basically, the numbers represent the percentage of your calories that should come from carbs, protein, and fat respectively. So, for a 40-30-30, 40% of your calories should come from carbs, 30 from protein, and 30 from fat. There are 4 calories in each gram of carb and protein, and 9 calories in 1 gram of fat. So, if you require 2000 calories per day, 800 calories would come from carbs (equaling 200 grams), 600 calories would come from protein (equaling 150 grams), and 600 calories would come from fat (equaling 67 grams).
This will be discussed in greater length in our section on Weight Loss and Nutrition, but for now you should have a basic understanding of how to break down your daily macronutrients.
Step 3: Incorporate this basic but sound nutritional advice:
- Each time you sit down for a meal, ask yourself what you are about to do, then eat accordingly. Taking a nap? Keep the carbs and calories low. Going to the gym? Increase your calorie and carb intake somewhat.
- Do not snack. This interrupts the digestion process. Instead, get those 6 balanced meals in every day.
- As much as possible try to eliminate processed foods, foods with sugar added to them, and foods with too much salt.
- Start using whole grain products.
- Eat varied. Mixing different vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, etc. will help you get the vitamins and nutrients you need. This is particularly important if you are vegetarian or vegan.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — and we do mean eat, since juice loses out on that valuable dietary fiber and as well as being higher in easily digestible sugars. Aiming for at least 6 servings a day is a good start, but ideally it should be more.
- Keep your saturated fats low. No more than half your daily intake of fats should be saturated. These are found in animal products such as meat, dairy, etc.
- Make sure you consume your essential fatty acids. You can find these in oily fish, nuts, canola, olive oil, flax seed oil, etc.
- Stay properly hydrated, particularly when active.
Step 4: Pay attention to your micronutrients and water.
Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals. We do not use these for energy, but our body uses them to regulate bodily processes and to keep us healthy. Make sure you consume your daily requirements. A varied diet that follows the advice above will be fine. However, a good vitamin supplement could also be beneficial. Just make sure that you do not use them as a replacement for proper nutrition.
The last component is water. It is very important that you stay properly hydrated, particularly during periods of activity. I do not like to give specific water requirements because they are not very useful. Any figure I could give would be a general average and would not take into account your specific needs. Moreover, it would include water in other drinks and foods. So, someone who eats a lot of fruit would require far less additional water than someone who eats a lot of potato chips. So, let me leave it at this: stay properly hydrated, listen to your body and drink when you need to (always have water at hand), and drink some extra fluids in preparation for physical activity.
Exercise for Health & Fitness
How you exercise will depend on your goals, your age, your ability, etc. Below, I will describe what I believe is the ideal fitness workout plan (from an overall health and weight-management perspective) for a typical, healthy adult. I will use this ideal fitness plan template in the examples in the next section.
The ideal workout plan consists of a combination of cardio, resistance/weight training, and interval training or sports. Each one of these elements brings something different to the table. Your exact workout plan will vary depending on several factors, but as a general rule for most adults the recommended amount would consist of:
The ideal workout plan consists of a combination of cardio, resistance/weight training, and interval training or sports…
- 3-5 cardiovascular workouts of at least 30 minutes, and longer if the goal is weight loss.
- 2-4 weight training sessions of no more than 60 minutes.
- 1-2 interval training sessions of no more than 30 minutes.
Now, I am fully aware that not everyone can manage all that. The most important aspect is to get both cardiovascular and resistance training. The former is fantastic for burning calories and has countless health benefits, while the latter builds/maintains muscle mass, thus protecting your metabolism, as well as adding a number of health benefits of its own.
As a bare minimum, I would recommend 3 cardios (or possibly 2 cardios and an interval training session) and 1-2 weight training sessions per week.
Sports are also great for keeping fit, burning calories, and building strength & power, but they should not fully replace the above. In particular, cardio (i.e. steady pace, moderate intensity exercise done over a period of at least 20-30 minutes) yields health benefits that are not always duplicated by sports, which tend to be more intense.
Walking is also good, but it does not elevate the heart rate into the same zone as cardios, except for very out of shape individuals, the elderly, etc. For that reason, it also does not yield the same benefits. Check out this article to read more about Cardiovascular Training.
Sleep for Health and Fitness
The final component that I will discuss is sleep. Sleep is far more important than most people realize. We recharge during our sleep, both physically and mentally, and when we get too little of it (or when it is of poor quality), it greatly affects our ability to handle the challenges in our daily lives.
Everyone is different when it comes to how much sleep they need. The exact number of hours varies from individual to individual, and you should be aware of your optimal number. However, beyond the amount of sleep you get, there is also the issue of quality. Here are some tips for getting a good nights sleep:
- About an hour before bed, relax your body physically and mentally and do not engage in strenuous physical or mental activity.
- Do not intake caffeine a few hours before bedtime.
- Create a dark, quiet, and comfortable environment.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule, i.e. go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each night.
- Limit napping. If you do nap, it is generally best to keep it under 45 minutes.
Bushman B, (2011), ACSM's Complete Fitness and Health, American College of Sports Medicine
Hatfield FC (2004), Fitness The Complete Guide edition 8.6.6, International Sports Science Association's Certified Fitness Trainer Program
Macdonald M. & the IBNFC, Nutrition Coach Certification Course Manual (copyright 2004-2013), Venice Nutrition
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), USDA, http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm
What You Can Do To Reduce Your Stroke Risk (updated 2012), American Heart Association, http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/HealthyLivingAfterStroke