The last decade has seen a shift in emphasis from the goal of attaining physical fitness (a product) to the behavior of physical activity (a process) to achieve health benefits. A central question is whether the achievement of physical fitness (PF) is necessary or if participation in physical activity (PA) is sufficient. Three basic tenets of this shift are examined by using representative studies. They are: (1) both PA and PF will lead to health benefits; PF is simply a surrogate measure for PA, (2) the impact of genetics will be avoided if PA, not PF, is emphasized and that is desirable, and (3) it is easier to motivate “the masses” to accumulate lifestyle moderate activity than to undergo a vigorous exercise prescription. Results indicate that PA and PF might be independent risk factors, that both have a degree of genetic determination, and that participation rates for PA have changed little and remain insufficient. Both PA and PF need to be evaluated, promoted, and attained.
The author is Professor Emeritus, Dept of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115.