Today I’ll walk you through a complete fitness test you can administer to yourself, which allows you to monitor your fitness level and set personal goals.
We’ll also touch on the “why” behind these assessments, and review recent studies on the benefits of an active lifestyle.
So clear some floor space, get your workout attire ready, and read on to learn how to test your physical fitness level.
The Importance Of Being Fit
A study conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas collected medical records of 18,670 middle-aged women and men who had visited the Cooper Institute’s clinic for a checkup beginning in 1970. That cohort was healthy at their first checkup and took a fitness test during the visit. They were categorized into five fitness groups, and most of the participants fell into the least-fit category.
The researchers checked those participants’ Medicare claim records from 1999 through 2009, by which time most of the study participants were over the age of 70. They discovered that the least fit adults at middle age were also the most likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, lung cancer, or Alzheimer’s.1
Those who were most fit in middle age developed many of the same common conditions, but theirs occurred much later in life when compared to the less fit group. Aerobically fit participants experienced chronic illnesses in the last five years of their lives. But those who weren’t in shape during middle age lived with some of those maladies for 10 to 20 years.1
What we gather from this study is that being or getting fit in middle age extends the amount of time you can live free of certain debilitating diseases. Furthermore, the less fit you are, the more an increase in fitness will improve your prospects. The researchers noted that those in midlife who move from the least fit category up just one fitness ranking receive greater benefits from their improved fitness level than those who move from the second highest to the highest ranking. While you should strive to be as fit as possible, you can find encouragement in the fact that even if you’re in very poor shape, a little improvement can dramatically help.
Fitness And Bone Health
Exercising on a regular basis isn’t just useful for extending your good health into old age; it is crucial to build and strengthen your bones.
From the get-go, the Save Institute has brought to light the importance of exercising for bone health. The mechanical loading that your bones experience during weight-bearing exercise triggers new bone formation. Additionally, an important benefit of exercise is that it helps to prevent excess weight and reduce abdominal fat which is a risk factor for osteoporosis.2
An Active Lifestyle Is Essential
A study published at the University of Michigan Health System analyzed the relationship between resistance, muscle strength, and age. Progressive resistance training describes a gradual increase of the amount of weight used and the frequency and length of training sessions in relation to improvements over time.
Adults over 50 who lived sedentary lifestyles, devoid of regular exercise, experienced muscle loss of up to 0.4 pounds per year.3 The study showed that the decline in muscle mass can begin as early as in one’s thirties and only accelerates with age. But the author of this study has good news:
“Our analyses of current research shows that the most important factor in somebody’s function is their strength capacity. No matter what age an individual is, they can experience significant strength improvement with progressive resistance exercise even into the eighth and ninth decades of life.”3
The study shows that after an average of 18-20 weeks of progressive resistance training, an adult can add 2.42 pounds of lean muscle to their body mass and increase their overall strength by 25-30 percent.3
It’s Never Too Late To Get Fit
A British study further underscores the message from the UM researchers: that it’s never too late to get fit. Researchers followed 3,500 people with an average age of 64, tracking their physical and mental health for more than eight years. Every other year, the participants answered questionnaires about the frequency and intensity of their physical exercise alongside a battery of cognitive tests.
Approximately 70% of participants who were active at the start of the study remained so, and about 10% of participants exercised regularly throughout the study. The rest of the participants either became or remained sedentary.4
The researchers found that after four years of regular physical activity, people are three times more likely to age in good health. After eight years, they’re seven times more likely to remain strong and well.4
Test Your Fitness Level
Here are five simple metrics for assessing your physical fitness. Use these to discover your current fitness level, and to keep track of your progress by repeating these tests on a regular basis.
1. Aerobic Fitness
This three-minute step test will assess your aerobic fitness. You’ll need a time-keeping device and a step of about 8 inches in height. Straighten your back and engage your stomach muscles, then begin stepping on and off the step, alternating your feet. Maintain a steady pace for three minutes, with the goal of taking 40 steps per minute. When the time is up, rest for 30 seconds, then take your pulse for 15 seconds. (You can check your pulse at your wrist using your opposite hand’s index and middle finger.) Multiply the 15 second pulse count by four to get your heart rate per minute.
Assessment chart for women:
Assessment chart for men:
2. Core Strength Test
To test your core strength, hold a plank position for as long as you can. Place a time-keeping device in front of you and get on all fours on the floor with your palms and forearms on the ground and your elbows aligned with your shoulders. Extend your legs and position your toes on the floor, lifting your heels. While engaging your stomach muscles and keeping your back flat, support your body weight on your forearms and toes. Make sure to keep your body in a straight line from head to heels. Hold this position until you no longer can, keeping an eye on the time.
Assessment By Age:
3. Lower Body Strength
Determine your lower body strength by standing against a wall with your legs extended such that your feet are between one and two feet away from the wall. Bend your knees and slide down your back until you have reached a sitting position in which your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for as long as you can, keeping track of time.
Assessment By Age:
4. Upper Body Strength
This is an adjusted push-up test. While on your hands and knees, with your hands shoulder-width apart, start with a flat back, then lower your upper body toward the floor by bending your elbows, and lift back up by extending them. Repeat until it becomes a strain to complete a repetition. Your score is the number you complete consecutively without a rest.
Assessment By Age:
Flexibility is often overlooked, but just as important as strength. To test your flexibility, you’ll do a sitting toe reach. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Stretch your arms forward, reaching toward your toes. If you cannot reach your toes, then bend your knees until you can.
The More You Know, The More You Can Tailor Your Workout To Improve Your Fitness Level
Let your results inspire you rather than discourage you. Use this test to check on your improvements in the future, and keep the results handy, so you’ll be able to track your progress.
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I hope you’ll apply what you’ve learned today to start improving your fitness level and improving your life!
Till next time,
1 Benjamin L. Willis, MD, MPH, et al. “Midlife Fitness and the Development of Chronic Conditions in Later Life” Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(17):1333-1340. Web: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/1352789
2 Bredella, Torriani, et al. “Musculoskeletal (Metabolic Conditions and Osteoporosis) Detrimental Effects of Visceral Obesity on Bone Health.” Radiological Society of North America. Presented on November 30th, 2010.
3 Mark D. Peterson, Paul M. Gordon. “Resistance Exercise for the Aging Adult: Clinical Implications and Prescription Guidelines.” The American Journal of Medicine, 2011; 124 (3): 194. Web: http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(10)00927-7/fulltext
4 Hamer M, Lavoie KL, Bacon SL. “Taking up physical activity in later life and healthy ageing: the English longitudinal study of ageing” Br J Sports Med 2014;48:239-243. 25 November 2013. Web: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/3/239