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J Long Term Eff Med Implants. 2006;16(2):193-204.

Physical fitness assessment: an update.

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  • 1Division of Spine and Sports Care, The Runner's Clinic, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Virginia Health Sciences System, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.


The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) gives the following definition of health-related physical fitness: Physical fitness is defined as a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity. It is also characterized by (1) an ability to perform daily activities with vigor, and (2) a demonstration of traits and capacities that are associated with a low risk of premature development of hypokinetic diseases (e.g., those associated with physical inactivity). Information from an individual's health and medical records can be combined with information from physical fitness assessment to meet the specific health goals and rehabilitative needs of that individual. Attaining adequate informed consent from participants prior to exercise testing is mandatory because of ethical and legal considerations.A physical fitness assessment includes measures of body composition, cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular fitness, and musculoskeletal flexibility. The three common techniques for assessing body composition are hydrostatic weighing, and skinfold measurements, and anthropometric measurements. Cardiorespiratory endurance is a crucial component of physical fitness assessment because of its strong correlation with health and health risks. Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) is the traditionally accepted criterion for measuring cardiorespiratory endurance. Although maximal-effort tests must be used to measure VO2max, submaximal exercise can be used to estimate this value. Muscular fitness has historically been used to describe an individual's integrated status of muscular strength and muscular endurance. An individual's muscular strength is specific to a particular muscle or muscle group and refers to the maximal force (N or kg) that the muscle or muscle group can generate. Dynamic strength can be assessed by measuring the movement of an individual's body against an external load. Isokinetic testing may be performed by assessing the muscle tension generated throughout a range of motion at a constant angular velocity. The ability of a muscle group to perform repeated contractions over a specific period of time that is sufficient to cause fatigue is termed muscular endurance. Musculoskeletal flexibility evaluations focus on the joints and associated structures, ligaments, and muscles that cross the joints. The sit-and-reach test and the behind-the-back reach test satisfy many of the criteria for physical assessment of musculoskeletal flexibility. A physical fitness assessment must be integrated into all activities of daily living, as well as the physician's examination, to assess and promote health.

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