5 Health and Fitness Self-Tests You Can Do at Home

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Are you the picture of good health, so much so that everyone wants to know your secrets? If you feel good and have a good energy level and the stamina to do the things you enjoy, that’s a good sign — but what if you had some idea of how vibrant and healthy your really are?

Believe it or not, there are simple health and fitness tests you can do at home . These tests will give you some idea of your level of fitness and how likely you are to survive the next decade.

In fact, researchers have come up with a number of self-tests you can do from the comfort of your home to see how likely you’ll be alive ten years down the line. No, you don’t have to get a blood test or a physical exam to complete these tests. All you need is some space and a way to check your heart rate.

How many of these tests can YOU pass?

What’s Your Reaction Time?

Quick! Quick! How fast can you react? It matters. Reaction time is an indicator of how quickly your nervous system responds and reacts to sudden changes, which is a marker for overall health.

In one study, researchers measured the reaction time of over 5,000 young and middle-aged adults. Then they compared the results to how many were still alive 15 years. Even after controlling for other factors, slower reaction times were linked with a greater risk for death from heart disease and all causes.

Curious as to how quickly YOU react? You can check your reaction time using various online sites like this one.

Watch out though! Checking your reaction time and trying to beat your last score can be addictive. Don’t worry if your reaction time is a little slower than you expected. Reaction time slows with age, so you won’t have the reaction time of a 20-year old if you’re 60.

Walking Speed

Do people always tell you to slow down? That’s a good sign! According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, walking at a brisk pace is linked with a lower risk of dying over the next decade.

In fact, a study carried out on women in their mid-70s showed those who walked at the briskest pace had a 91% chance of being alive at age 85 while slow-pokes had only a 35% chance of surviving into the eighth decade.

The theory is: People who are healthy enough to walk briskly have decent cardiovascular fitness and, therefore, are a lower risk of dying of heart disease and other causes.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, walking speed was as good of a marker for longevity as more established markers like blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and smoking status.

What’s considered a brisk pace? People who walk at about 2.2 miles per hour have an average life expectancy, based on studies. For every 0.1 meters per second faster, the risk of dying over the next 10 years decreased by 12%.

Resting Pulse Rate

What’s your resting pulse rate? It’s easy to check, and the value is a good marker for how physically fit you are. A normal pulse rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A slower heart rate, in the 60 to 70 range, or even lower if you exercise regularly, suggests your heart is operating efficiently.

A healthy, fit heart can pump more blood with each beat, so it doesn’t have to beat as many times per minute to deliver oxygen to tissues. A high resting heart rate, in the mid-80's and greater, means your heart could use some conditioning.

There are some exceptions to a lower heart rate being an indicator of health. A very slow heart rate, below 60 beats per minute, especially if you don’t exercise regularly, may be a sign of heart conduction problems, a condition called heart block.

Plus, some medications can artificially raise or lower your heart rate. Therefore, resting heart rate is not ALWAYS a reliable health and fitness test.

When should you be concerned? If you have a heart rate below 60 and you’re not exercising regularly or you have a heart rate above 100 at rest, see your doctor to make sure there isn’t a medical cause for your fast or slow heart rate.

The Sit-Rise Test

Your ability to lower yourself into a sitting position and rise up without using your hands for support is another measure of overall health and fitness. Research shows it’s a good indicator of how likely you are to die over the next 5 years.

To do the test:

  • From a standing position sit down on a mat from a standing position without using a hand or knee to support you.
  • From the sitting position, (It’s okay to cross your ankles in front of you), try to rise back up without placing a hand or knee on the floor.
  • You earn 5 points for sitting and another 5 points for standing up. Subtract a point each time you place a hand or knee on the floor during each phase.

A perfect score would be 10 points. If you score between a 7 and 10, you’re more likely to outlive those who score a 0 to 3.

How well did you do? If you couldn’t do it without using your hands or knees for support, don’t fret — do something about it. Use it as a sign you need to work on balance and strength training. It’s never too late to improve your physical fitness and health.

Heart Rate Recovery

Speaking of exercise, the next time you do an aerobic workout, see how long it takes for your heart rate to drop afterwards. How quickly your heart slows is an indicator of how fit you are from a cardiovascular standpoint AND your risk of dying prematurely. It’s like a mini-exercise stress test.

Here’s how to test yourself at home:

  • Exercise hard for a full two minutes. (Use a stopwatch or iPhone as a timer) Jumping jacks, running vigorously in place or jumping rope are good ways to get your heart rate up quickly.
  • After two minutes, stop exercising and immediately check your heart rate by for 20 seconds and multiplying by 3. Write down the number.
  • Wait one minute and recheck your heart rate. Write the number down.
  • Compare the two values.

The difference between the two numbers should be 12 or greater, meaning your heart rate dropped by at least 12 beats after one minute of rest. If it didn’t slow that quickly, it suggests your risk for dying of heart-related problems over the next five years is greater than average. It also means it’s time to work on your cardiovascular fitness!

The Bottom Line

Don’t let the results of these tests worry you if you didn’t perform well. The results should motivate you to begin an exercise program whether it be brisk walking, a step class, kickboxing or some other form of exercise you enjoy.

Strength training is just as important as aerobic exercise, if not more so. You lose muscle and strength every decade after the age of 30 and it accelerates the older you get. If weights aren’t your thing, invest in resistance bands and commit to 15 minutes of training at least every other day.

If there’s one thing that can change your life and your health, it’s regular physical activity. No, it doesn’t always feel good while you’re doing it, but you’re feel better when you’re not doing it because your energy level will be higher and you’ll be stronger too.

References:

  • ScienceDaily.com. “Test of Sitting and Standing Predicts Mortality”
  • European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 0(00) 1–7. The European Society of Cardiology (2012)
  • PLoS One. 2014; 9(1): e82959. Published online 2014 Jan 29. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082959
  • CMAJ. 2016 Feb 16; 188(3): E53–E63. Published online 2015 Nov 23. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.150535.
  • CardiovascularBusiness.com. “Fast walking speed associated with reduced mortality risk”

I’m a family physician who believes in the power of lifestyle to transform health and prevent disease. Food is the best medicine!

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