What is the definition of physical fitness and how fit do you need to be to join the army?

Just what does it mean to be physically fit? Does it mean running 10 kilometres without breaking a sweat? Doing 20 push-ups with ease? Smashing through a spin class before breakfast?

The truth is, there’s no one measure that reveals a person’s physical fitness. Rather, fitness is the combination of a number of components, including cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, body composition and flexibility, which together allow us to carry out physical activities without too much strain.

‘Fit’ and ‘healthy’ are two terms that are not interchangeable. Healthy people are free from disease, while fitness describes your ability to carry out a physical activity – you can be healthy, but unfit.

The benefits of keeping fit are hard to dispute. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of numerous health problems such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, cancer and obesity. It’s also essential for good mental health, helping to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.

In Australia – supposedly a nation of avid sports lovers – most adults don’t do the recommended amount of activity each week: at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 mins of vigorous physical activity, plus two muscle strengthening sessions.

But it’s not all bad news. As you’ll see, some of our fittest citizens can be found in the armed forces, the fire brigade and…climbing mountains.

How fit do you need to be to join the Australian Army?

Regular physical exertion comes with the territory in the armed forces. Anyone applying to join the Australian Army must complete the Pre-entry Fitness Assessment to ensure they meet a minimum level of fitness. Don’t be put off though – it’s not a gruelling test. Candidates must perform push-ups (eight for females and 15 for males), 45 sit-ups and score 7.5 in a shuttle run test, a common fitness test where a person runs between two markers that are 20 metres apart in an allocated period of time, measured in beeps, that decreases with each level. The test is tougher for Special Forces applicants, who must 30 push-ups, 60 sit-ups and score 10.1 in the shuttle run.


How fit do you need to be to be a firefighter?

Fighting fires is tough work that involves lugging around heavy equipment, dragging hoses and climbing stairs and ladders all while wearing 23 kilograms of protective gear. Prospective firefighters need a high level of cardiovascular fitness and must score 9.6 in the shuttle run. They also must complete a Physical Aptitude Test (PAT), a three-stage test that simulates the tough physical work carried out by firefighters at emergency incidents, such as the ‘stair climb with single-sided jerry can carry’ and ‘repeated hose carry’.


How fit do you need to be to climb Mount Everest?

The cliffs and crevasses of a mountain like Mount Everest – the world’s tallest at 8848m – are a hostile physical environment, to say the least. Climbers must battle altitude sickness as well as the fatigue that comes with undertaking a two-month uphill trek in icy conditions. Studies show that fitness allows climbers to use oxygen more efficiently, which helps their bodies cope with the debilitating physical effects of altitude that can lead to headaches, nausea and weakness. Training for an Everest climb involves a 12-month program including months of trekking over varied terrain wearing a 25-kilogram pack and then, immediately preceding the trek, acclimatisation at increasing altitudes. It’s no walk in the park – the stretch of mountain above 8000m is known as the death zone, a hazardous environment where there’s not enough oxygen to sustain life. To date, at least 375 people have died climbing the mountain.