The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH

Healthy Fitness Zone

Healthy Fitness Zone® Standards Overview

FitnessGram® is unique, and widely accepted, because the fitness assessments are evaluated using criterion-referenced standards. An advantage of criterion-referenced standards, over percentile norms, is they are based on levels of fitness for good health. The amount of fitness needed for good health differs between boys and girls and it also varies across age. The FitnessGram Healthy Fitness Zone standards have been developed to take this into account.

Nationally recognized experts on the FitnessGram Scientific Advisory Board evaluate research, assess best practices and adjust the Healthy Fitness Zone standards, calculations, and protocols to match the best science available.

FitnessGram classifies fitness levels using discrete zones to allow for more personalized feedback. The two primary zones are the Healthy Fitness Zone and the Needs Improvement (NI) Zone; however, for aerobic capacity and body composition two distinct NI Zones (NI and NI-Health Risk) are used to make further distinctions in fitness. The use of three zones makes it possible to provide more effective prescriptive messages to youth since the zones are based on clear differences in potential health risks.

Click on each zone below to learn more:

Aerobic capacity does not directly impact body composition, but body composition is a critical factor in the exercise performances used to estimate aerobic capacity. Individuals who carry more body fat will often perform more poorly than if they had less body fat. Therefore, the two dimensions are related, but still independent. Individuals with low aerobic capacity should be encouraged to be more active to improve their aerobic capacity (and possibly their body composition). Individuals with unhealthy body composition are also encouraged to be more active, but a healthy low calorie diet is also important for changing body composition.

Body composition and aerobic capacity are clearly linked, resulting in the need to use a common health indicator, and preferably one that reflects an overall indicator of health, for the Healthy Fitness Zone standards in two areas. The presence of metabolic syndrome was selected as the primary outcome variable for determining appropriate aerobic capacity and body composition standards since it is related to both indicators.

Metabolic syndrome is characterized as a clustering of risk factors that influence risk for diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease. The five risk factors that are incorporated into metabolic syndrome include:

  • high fasting glucose
  • high waist circumference
  • high triglycerides
  • low high density lipoprotein cholesterol
  • high blood pressure

Studies have demonstrated that risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome track throughout the lifespan. Therefore, it is a good indicator of both current and future health risk. Additional information on the research and development of the FITNESSGRAM standards can be accessed at