home icon

How Fit Are You, Really?

4 tests to measure strength, balance and flexiblity can help you set fitness goals

By Linda Melone | February 12, 2014

How much effort would it take for you to go from sitting on the floor to standing up? Determining how easily you could do it can help predict how long you’ll live, according to a study by Brazilian researchers.
 
Researchers had 2,000 men and women between the ages of 51 and 80 stand from the floor with no support (the Sitting Rising Test, or SRT) and scored them on a scale of zero to 10. Points were deducted for using a hand, knee or body part. Those with scores below eight had higher mortality rates six years after the study, compared to those with scores between eight and ten.
 
Investigators suggest that the flexibility and strength required for the SRT might reflect the ability to perform a wide range of daily activities, such as bending over to pick up a paper or a pair of glasses from under a table.

(MORE: Stay Safe With Proper Exercise Form)
 
Failing to Keep Up With Workouts

While it makes intuitive sense that maintaining strength, balance and flexibility as we age can prolong longevity, as the SRT study suggests, not all of us keep up with our workouts.
 
“As we progress into our 50s and 60s we tend to challenge ourselves less and less,” says Mark Nutting, fitness director of SACO Sport & Fitness in Saco, Maine.  
 
Not all of us have a team of Brazilian researchers on hand to guide us through the SRT. But here are four simple, at-home tests to help you recognize fitness issues you could improve. (Check with your doctor before trying these or any other exercise.)
 
For Balance: The Sharpened Romberg Test
 
This two-part test assesses static balance by standing with a reduced base of support (one foot in front of the other) and removing visual sensory information (eyes closed), says Jessica Matthews, certified personal trainer and assistant professor at Miramar College in San Diego, Calif.
 
1. Stand with one foot in front of the other (heel to toes) and your arms folded across your chest with the palms touching opposite shoulders (stand near a wall or other stable object if you’re unsure of your balance capabilities).
 
2. Close your eyes and count to see how long you can stand without losing your stability. “Good postural control is based on holding this position and maintaining balance without excessive swaying for 30 seconds or more,” says Matthews.

If you can’t make it to 30 seconds, consider workouts to build your balance. More than one in three people age 65 or older falls each year, according to the National Institutes of Health, making balance an important part of any exercise program.

(MORE: The Changes We All Need to Make in Midlife)
 
For Aerobic Fitness: The Rockport One-Mile Walk Test

This test predicts aerobic fitness by using heart rate response in determining VO2 max — the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. Choose a calm day outdoors or use a treadmill for this test.
 
1. Walk one mile on flat ground as quickly as safely possible.

2. Immediately upon finishing, check your heart rate (count your heartbeats per minute) and record this number. Determine your VO2 max using this calculator. How did you rate?
 
If you fell short, look for ways to increase your cardiovascular fitness through walking, biking, swimming or another aerobic activity. Strive for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

(MORE: Welcome to Age 50: Top Health and Fitness Tips)
 
For Muscular Strength and Endurance: The Push-Up Test
 
Before doing this test, first perform a short warm-up of walking for five to 10 minutes. Then...

1. Position yourself on the floor on your hands and knees, with your body straight and on your knees (a modified push-up) or up on your toes. Hands should be positioned directly under shoulders.

2. Lower yourself towards the floor until your chest nearly touches the ground, then push yourself back up to the starting position, exhaling as you push back up. Record the number and check your scores here.
 
If you rated below average, try to improve your score by striving for an additional repetition each week as part of your strength training, two to three times a week.
 
For Flexibility: The Sit and Reach Test
 
The sit and reach test measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring (backs of the leg) muscles. Tightness in these areas can lead to lower back pain. Warm up by walking or biking for five to 10 minutes. Then...
 
1. Place a yardstick on the floor with the zero closest to you. Tape the yardstick in place at the 15-inch mark.

2. Sit on the floor with the yardstick between your legs, feet approximately 12 inches apart and heels even with the tape at the 15-inch mark.

3. Place one hand over the other, with the tips of your two middle fingers on top of each other.

4. Slowly stretch forward, without bouncing, and slide your fingertips as far as possible along the yardstick. Record this number. Repeat three times.

Check your score here. If you rated low, regular stretching after your workouts can help increase flexibility.
 
“To know whether or not you need to improve in a specific area requires measuring it to find a baseline,” says Nutting. “Only then can you see if the work you’re doing has the desired results.”


Next Avenue contributor Linda Melone is a California-based freelance writer specializing in health, fitness and wellness for women over 50.

Newsletter
Next Avenue in your Inbox

Each week we'll send you stories, perspective and advice.