Young Mum or Ballerina. Who's Really the Fittest?

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNABEL COLE

DO YOU envy people who can run for the bus with no effort while you find yourself panting after climbing a flight of steps?

Well, just because you don't consider yourself fit doesn't mean you're not healthy. Your fittest friends may still be eating the wrong foods and doing unsuitable exercises, while your brisk walk to work and sensible diet could be just as beneficial.

Here five people take a unique fitness examination with a BUPA specialist to find out what they really need to do to stay healthy. Below, we consider whether being fit really is the same as being healthy . . .

ACCORDING to Dr Paula Franklin, medical director of BUPA, the words 'fit' and 'healthy' can be as different as chalk and cheese. 'They're always used together but one certainly does not follow from the other,' she says.

'Most people have a fixed idea about what they consider to be good for them - exercise, low-fat diet and so on - but these aren't always as beneficial as you think.' Consider, for example, the businessman who goes skiing twice a year and plays squash once a week after work. He may think he's in better physical shape than his secretary, who is rushed off her feet all day, can't afford the time to go to a gym and spends her evenings looking after two young children. If so, he's sadly mistaken. His sedentary lifestyle will probably mean she's far more healthy than he is.

Sporadic exercise may be good in the short-term, but if you have a poor diet and fail to stretch your muscles properly it will do you very little good. But if you spend the day walking around, using up a lot of energy, your body will be subject to a rigorous daily workout.

According to health specialists, the problem of an ever-expanding unfit society is not a reluctance to get fit, because more people than ever are avid gym-goers. But the desire to pound the treadmill and sweat it out over the rowing machine has hidden the need to get the whole body into shape.

Dr Franklin explains: 'Fitness is not just about going to the gym.

You can be fit by walking to work, doing the gardening or just playing with your children.

THOSE apparently less strenuous tasks really count. And if sprinting to catch a bus leaves you breathless, then try not to worry. As long as you're doing the rest, you'll be fit.' And according to recent satatis-tics from the Health Education Authority, it really is the little things can count. Half an hour of strenuous DIY, digging the garden or vacuuming and dusting is equivalent to a game of football, a 30-minute cycle ride or an hour's aerobics class. And a Sunday afternoon ramble is far better than an exhausting, short game of tennis.

As a basic rule, you should do an activity three times a week that keeps you breathing harder than normal for 20 minutes. It's up to you whether that's playing sport or doing the housework.

But being obsessed with your stamina and muscles can lead to a neglect of the most crucial factors in living a long and healthy life - a sensible diet and a minimum of stress.

EACH person was put through eight basic tests with one of BUPA's fitness experts. Some of these can be done at home but for others you will need special equipment or advice.

* PULSE. A normal pulse rate before exercise is between 56 and 80 beats a minute, with an average of 72. A high rate, above 80, means the heart is working harder than necessary to pump blood around the body; if low, it's not working hard enough.

* FLEXIBILITY. Measured by a sit-and-reach exercise. Lie on the floor and pull yourself as far forward as possible. The further the better.

* STAMINA. Six minutes cycling on an exercise bike wearing a heart rate monitor. Increase in heart rate and shortness of breath indicate low stamina.

If you're fit you shouldn't have to change your breathing pattern drastically. …