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Using the FITT Principle to Get Fit

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Using the FITT Principle to Get Fit

A lot of barriers can pop up when you are trying to become and stay physically active. Time, your schedule, your preferences, and physical limitations can all factor into what kind of physical activity you will do. Plus, how do you get started and how do you improve? Deciding what you will do can be overwhelming and even discouraging. How can you choose the best fitness program that will work for you?

Here’s where the FITT principle comes in. Using this approach can help you choose and customize a workout plan that meets your needs and help you reach your fitness goals.

What is the FITT principle?

The FITT principle (not to be confused with HIIT training) is a guideline that can help you get started with physical activity and then switch it up, based on your progress. Here’s what “FITT” stands for:

  • F: Frequency. How many days each week will you be active?
  • I: Intensity. How “hard” or how intensely will you exercise? This can vary between light, moderate, and vigorous intensity activities.
  • T: Time. How much time will you spend being physically active?
  • T: Type. What type (or types) of activity will you do?

Let’s take a closer look at what each of these means.

Frequency

How often you exercise can depend on a number of factors: being new to exercise, your current fitness level, how much time you have to dedicate to being active, other commitments in your life, and your own exercise goals (for example, training to run a 5K race).

If you are a beginner, a reasonable frequency is to aim to be active three days each week. Eventually, you might increase that to five or six days a week. For example, you might plan to go walking or use a stationary bike a few times a week. Because strength (resistance) training is also part of a fitness plan, the usual recommendation is to aim to do this two to three times per week, with one to two days between sessions.

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Intensity

The intensity of a fitness program is best measured by monitoring your heart rate. This can be done by using a fitness tracker, a heart rate monitor, or a smart watch. You can manually measure your heart rate by pressing your fingers on your wrist or neck where your pulse is and counting for 15 seconds, then multiplying it by four. Your health care provider can help you determine a target heart rate that is best for you.

But, to keep things simple as you get started, here’s how you can gauge your exercise intensity:

  • Low intensity: This is an activity that you can do for a while without feeling like you need to stop or slow down. Examples might be a leisurely walk, stretching, or gentle yoga.
  • Moderate intensity: This an activity that increases your heart rate and requires you to make an effort to keep going. Examples are bike riding, brisk walking, mowing the lawn, and playing doubles tennis.
  • Vigorous intensity: This type of activity requires a large amount of effort, leading to a considerably higher heart rate and heavier breathing. You may find that it’s difficult to speak in complete sentences when doing this. Examples are jogging, fast bike riding, shoveling, playing soccer, hiking, and playing singles tennis.

Time

The time you spend being physically active will be determined by how much time you have in your day, as well as your level of fitness and the type of activity you choose to do. If you have physical limitations and/or if you are just starting out, you may initially only be able to do five minutes at a time. That’s OK! Every amount of activity that you do is helpful. But if you’re a newbie, you might aim for 15 to 20 minutes, initially. If you’ve been doing some physical activity for a while, 30 to 60 minutes might be doable for you.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to do 15 or 30 or 60 minutes all at once. If your schedule is tight, break up your activity into smaller segments throughout the day.

General recommendations for being active are to aim for 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each week.

Type

There are so many types of physical activity to choose from. Going to a gym or fitness center may be appealing to you if you like using equipment, such as a treadmill, elliptical, or weight machines. However, you might prefer other types of activity, such as swimming, walking, using exercise videos, or ballroom dancing. Don’t forget that yardwork and housework count as physical activities, too.

What’s most important is to choose one or two types of activities that you will enjoy. And don’t be afraid to explore things that interest you, such as Pilates, tai chi, or golfing. If you like an activity, you are more like to stick with it! You might also consider several types of activities based on factors such as the weather and the season, too. It’s always good to have a backup plan.

Putting your FITT plan together

A FITT plan may sound good, but what does it look like? And how do you change it?

Here’s an example of a FITT plan (but remember, yours may be very different):

F: Frequency: Three times per week
I: Intensity: Moderate
T: Time: 20 minutes
T: Type: Walking around the high school track

As you start to acclimate or adapt to your FITT plan, you may be ready to switch it up. You can do this by changing one or more parts of your FITT plan. For example:

  • Increase the frequency to five times per week
  • Boost the intensity by walking a bit faster or adding in some hills
  • Walk for 25 or 30 minutes
  • Alternate light jogging with walking, or try a different type of activity, such as riding a bike

You might find it easier to change one part at a time. Always pay attention to how you feel, too.

And remember: Before starting any type of physical activity program, see your health care provider beforehand, especially if you have diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. You may need certain tests or exams to ensure that activity is safe for you to do.

Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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