When you put on a dress, can you zip up the back without help? If you change shoes, can you do it standing up? Can you hoist a heavy bag of cat litter? Chase a dog that’s gotten off the leash? Could you do all those things better 20 years ago? And how well will you do them two decades down the pike?
If these tasks are a lot harder now than they used to be, rest assured they’ll only become more of a challenge. But declining strength and flexibility are not inevitable, and how well you will function 20 years into the future depends a lot on how physically active you are right now. "What we think of as signs of aging are actually just symptoms of muscle disuse," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women. "But you can erase problems if you stay active in a variety of ways."
Resistance training, for instance, can stave off the decline in muscle mass that starts to happen after age 40, says exercise physiologist Wayne Westcott, PhD, of the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. Heart-healthy aerobic workouts are rejuvenating too; they can offset the drop in lung capacity that begins as early as age 25.
How can you slow down your age clock? Start by taking these tests devised by Westcott, which show how old you are, biologically, based on the five elements of fitness: strength, core (back and abdominal) function, flexibility, balance, and endurance. Once you pinpoint your weak areas, follow our workout plan for four weeks, then test yourself again. Our prediction: In 2029, you’ll feel 20 years younger — and maybe look that way too.