Are You Fit Enough for Your Future?

By taking these anti-aging fitness tests, you can pinpoint, then strengthen, your body’s weak spots — and slow down aging in just four weeks.

By Elena Rover
Dip Test (Illustration: Kagan McCleod)

Anti-Aging FitnessWhen 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.The Game PlanOn the next four pages: tests to assess your biological age (versus your calendar age) and exercises to lower it. After four weeks you’ll feel more vigorous and youthful.1. Take the tests You can do one a day for five days, or do them all in one session, leaving at least 15 minutes between tests for recovery.2. Rank the results Mark your weakest fitness area as #1 and your strongest as #5. This will help you prioritize which problems to address first. If there’s a tie, focus first on the area you most want to ignore.3. Make your plan Choose the exercises that will most improve your problem areas. Then create a schedule of activities for the next two weeks, starting with your highest priorities. Shoot for six to 10 sessions that last 30 to 60 minutes each. If an activity affects more than one element of fitness (for example, yoga helps both core function and balance), check off all the appropriate categories.4. Show up and sweat Follow the workouts. Pick up the intensity until you’re maxed out.5. Start over After two weeks, repeat the tests. The new results will prove that your efforts are paying off. If your weak and strong areas change, reorder your priorities based on the new rankings. Then plan two more weeks of workouts. 6. Celebrate After just four weeks, you should see a dramatic difference in your abilities. Now keep your program going!Strength: Dip TestStrong muscles not only make your life easier, they also boost your metabolism. "Those hungry muscle cells chew up calories at two to three times the rate of fat cells," Peeke says. Other benefits: Muscle-building workouts toughen your bones and tone your flab.Dip TestSit on a sturdy chair (not one with wheels!) and slide your butt off, gripping the front edge of the chair with both hands to support yourself. Make sure your arms are straight, your butt is in front of the seat and your legs are straight in front of you. Then bend your elbows to 90 degrees and press back up; repeat as many times as you can. If you get to 15, you’re finished.Your Score/Biological Age Reps Body Age 13 to 15 20s 10 to 12 30s 8 to 9 40s 5 to 7 50s 3 to 4 60+ Fitness RxWhat works: Classic strength-training moves, including the triceps dip test you just performed. (It firms the back of your arms and shoulders.) Build more power with weightlifting machines, dumbbells, and bodysculpting and/or boxing classes.How often: Two 30- to 60-minute strength-training sessions a week.Core: Bicycle TestThe muscles in your abdomen, back, and hips make up your core, which holds you upright and allows the upper and lower body to work together. To keep this important area functioning well, you need to do more than crunches, Peeke says. You must develop hip flexibility, tone the side and lower abdominals, and strengthen the lower back.Bicycle TestLie on your back, knees over hips, feet dangling in the air. Place your hands behind your head (keep elbows open wide and don’t lace the fingers). Try to touch your right elbow to your left knee as you fully straighten your right leg to hover above the ground. Return to the center position without touching your shoulders to the floor. Switch sides, and repeat. Take at least two seconds to do each side. Each time you touch elbow to knee on both sides, counts as one rep. Keep count until you can’t do another set. If you get to 20, you’re finished. Your Score/Biological Age Reps Body Age 17 to 20 20s 13 to 16 30s 10 to 12 40s 8 to 9 50s 5 to 7 60+ Fitness RxWhat works: The bicycle test, which works all your abdominal, side, and midsection muscles, as well as the hip muscles. Other core-building activities: Pilates, yoga, dance, martial arts, and core-focused classes at the gym. How often: Three 30- to 60-minute sessions a week.Flexibility: Reach TestFlexible muscles and joints help you maneuver better in the world (for example, looking over your shoulder to back the car out of the driveway). What’s more, stiff joints and tight muscles can also set you up for injury: Reach beyond your range and you risk getting a sprain or strain.Reach TestSit on the floor with your right leg straight in front, foot flexed. Place your left foot against your inner right thigh, left knee open to the side. See how far you can reach toward the toes of your right foot. Using a tape measure, quantify your success: If your hand can reach beyond the toes of your flexed foot, measure by how many inches. If your hand doesn’t reach your foot, measure the distance between the fingertips and foot as a negative (for instance, if your fingers are 2 inches short of reaching your toes, count that as -2). If you can reach the toes but no farther, give yourself 0. Repeat on the other side. You’ll end up with two scores, and one side will probably be more flexible than the other. That means you need to work on the tighter side more, with the goal of becoming equally supple on both sides. Reaching even a quarter inch farther is a worthwhile improvement.Your Score/Biological Age Inches Body Age 3 20s 2 30s 1 40s 0 50s 1 or less 60s Fitness RxWhat works: The reach test targets every muscle on the back side of the body, from your foot to your neck. Round out your routine with stretches that work the muscles on your front and sides. Peeke also suggests yoga. How often: Ideally, one 10 to 30-minute session a day.Balance: One-Leg Balance TestYou need it every time you step from one foot to the other, so this is an essential if you want to be able to walk when you’re 80.One-Leg Balance TestStand near a wall or chair so you can get support fast if you wobble. Balancing on your right leg, move your left foot onto your calf. Then start the timer and see how many seconds you can stay in that position with your eyes closed. Repeat on the second side. You’ll end up with two scores, and one side will likely be better than the other. Work harder to improve the weaker side so that you become more stable.Your Score/Biological Age Seconds Body Age 16 to 20 20s 14 to 15 30s 12 to 13 40s 10 to 11 50s 8 to 9 60+ Fitness RxWhat works: Balancing on one foot while brushing your teeth is a good way to improve stability. After you master that move, try standing on a small firm pillow or a wobble board. You’ll also improve if you take up skating, yoga, hiking, or dancing.How often: One 5- to 10-minute session at least twice a week.Cardiovascular Endurance: Step TestWhen your cardiovascular system is fit, blood carries oxygen to your muscles as you need it. That means you can run for a bus without feeling as if you’re going to die. Cardio fitness is associated with maintaining a healthy weight and heart.Step TestUsing a timer, step up and down on a curb or a step for three minutes. Stop, then count your pulse for 15 seconds, placing two fingers (not your thumb) on the inside of your wrist. Multiply by 4 to find your beats per minute. Your Score/Biological Age Beats per Minute Body Age 105 to 107 20s 108 to 110 30s 111 to 113 40s 114 to 116 50s 117+ 60s Fitness RxWhat works: Aerobics, cycling, running, and walking. No matter what you choose, step it up by doing interval training, in which you increase your intensity in one spurt (start with 15 seconds, then build up to one minute), then go easier for the same duration.How often: Three 30- to 60-minute sessions a week.Originally published in MORE magazine, April 2009.

First Published Thu, 2009-04-30 21:45

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