Friday, January 9, 2009

Are You Fit?

Have you ever talked to someone who says, "I'm in pretty good shape" but in the next moment you see them walk across the room huffing and puffing from the exertion? I suspect that most of us wonder if there's an easy, non-embarrassing way to determine if we're fit or not. Sure, one could go to the local high school track, run a mile, and then compare the results to some fitness chart. You could go to the local YMCA or other fitness facility and see just how much weight you can lift. But, there's a problem -- I don't think most folks want to test their fitness in a public place because of the fear of what others might think. Whether that's from a fear of failing or just a basic self-consciousness is not really important. Wouldn't it be nice to have some simple things that you could do at home so that you could know if you have a minimal, basic level of fitness?

Well, Howard Schneider, fitness columnist at the Washington Post, thought it would be a good thing. So, he gathered some personal trainers in the DC area and asked them. He came up with a basic list and wrote about it in an article on Tuesday, Figuring Out How Fit You Really Are. (Read the whole article by clicking on the article title. You might have to register an account with the Post but it's free.)

Schneider came up with this list of things you can do at home or inobtrusively. HUGE DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician nor a certified fitness trainer nor even an uncertified fitness trainer. I cannot and will not take responsibility for what might happen if you follow the suggestions below. You should always get your doctor's opinion before beginning an exercise program. And, if you have a problem that would be aggravated by anything that follows, by all means DON'T DO THEM! Be smart about your health.

Check your aerobic capacity: Walk up a flight of steps and check your breathing at the top. Two or three steps aren't enough -- it needs to be enough steps to make it a test. Say, Schneider says, like the steps at the Woodley Park Metro stop in DC. Maybe a floor or two in your apartment or office building. If, at the top, you can carry on a conversation without gasping for breath, then you're in decent shape. If you have to stop midway or are breathless, then you need to make and stick to a cardio-fitness resolution.

Check your lower-body strength: do a wall squat. With your back against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart, slide down and move your feet out until your knees are at a 90-degree angle, with the hips parallel to the floor. Hold it for a minute and you have decent leg and glute strength. Use a support to get into and out of the position if needed. Don't aggravate a known knee issue by trying this.

Check your upper-body strength: if you can get your carry-on into the overhead compartment of a plane without assistance or you can carry your groceries up the steps without resting or you can lean over a sink to shave or wash your face without your back hurting, then you have at least minimal lower-body fitness. The one that I fail on is, Can you get out of bed without rolling to one side and pushing up with your hands? Maybe I can but I don't because I have had back problems and I don't want to aggravate my back. So, I roll to my side and sit up.

Check your flexibility: Can you touch your toes? Can you wash or scratch your back?

Check your balance: Can you stand on one foot for 30 seconds and switch to the other foot for 30 seconds without having to hold on or put your foot down?

OK, I've just hit the high points. Read the article. If you do something you shouldn't do or fail to do something you should have done when you test yourself, I'm not responsible.

These are minimal and non-scientific standards. Just because you meet minimal standards, don't let that be an excuse not to do better. Better fitness is one component of better overall health.

Run well, y'all,
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