Hourglass

Health is not defined by fat and thinness. Try these measures instead.

Your fitness level isn’t just about the number you see on your scale or the size of your biceps. Research suggests four main indicators together assess our physical condition: aerobic health, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition.

Remember that being thin is not the same as being healthy. In fact, a study published in 2008 suggests you can be fat and fit and thin and unhealthy. The original researcher found that one in four people had an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure. And that applies to many people who look great on the naked eye and often stay that way no matter what they eat. This unhealthy group – those who eat donuts for breakfast, avoid vegetables and rarely consider what they put in their mouths – have earned the nickname “skinny fat”; others suggest that this group suffers from “normal weight obesity(NWO). A report 2015 suggests that many people with a seemingly normal BMI (body mass index) have a significantly higher risk of metabolic problems and death despite how they look.

So, are you healthy? The following measures can help you find out.

Aerobic health

First, determine your resting heart rate. For your heart to be considered healthy, a typical adult’s resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Check your pulse by placing your index and middle fingers (not your thumb) on the side of your neck or inside your wrist. Set a timer for 15 seconds and count the beats. Multiply the number of beats by four.

Second, test your heart rate while doing aerobic activity. Also known as your target heart rate, the numbers should be different depending on your age. While a 25-year-old’s target heart rate is between 98 and 166, a 55-year-old’s should be between 83 and 140. Harvard Health, a division of Harvard Medical School, suggests taking step test which involves climbing five flights of stairs. Once you reach the fifth floor, rest or sit down for a minute, then check your pulse using the same method described above. Harvard Health suggests checking your rate against the YMCA standard. On this assessment chart, a healthy 36-45 year old man’s pulse will be 90 or less, and a woman in the same age category should reach 96 beats or less.

Muscular strength and endurance

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) states: “There are two types of muscular fitness assessments: muscular endurance tests, which assess the ability to withstand fatigue; and muscle strength tests, which assess the maximum amount of force an individual can produce in a specified number of repetitions.

You can test your muscular endurance with a test of push-ups and sit-ups. In the push-up test, you will need your chin to touch the floor. Count the number of push-ups you can do. If you’re a 35-year-old woman, your target goal is 19 push-ups without stopping; if you’re male the same age, you should be able to do at least 21. Although the Mayo Clinic considers the push-up test to be more accurate than a sit-up test, you can also try this test. “Good physical condition” for a 35-year-old woman means doing 30 sit-ups (or crunches), or a man of the same age should be able to do 40 in one minute.

For muscle strength, you can test in different ways. Common methods include a bench press or leg press, arm curl, pull-down, knee extension and/or knee bend. You will probably need a personal trainer to help you assess your muscle strength.

Flexibility

According to the University of California Davis’ Health Division of Sports Medicine, flexibility is an indicator of an individual’s overall health profile as it tells the story of joint, muscle, and tissue health.

  • Joints: A healthy joint, such as the hips and knees, which support much of your weight, is lubricated or oiled when there is a good blood supply. If you are inflexible, the joints may not get the nutrients they need.

  • muscles: Inflexible muscles put more strain on other muscles. This can lead to muscle fatigue which, in turn, can lead to joint injury, as the muscles are too tired to do their job. The hamstring muscles, for example, keep the knees stabilized. Weak hamstring muscles could increase the risk of an ACL tear.

Although age can play a role in your flexibility, regular stretching can help alleviate the natural decrease in flexibility that begins in your 30s and 40s. It is also important to note that men generally lose their flexibility faster than women.

To check your flexibility, take the sit and stretch test, which measures flexibility in the back of your legs, hips, and lower back. Take a measuring stick and sit down with your legs up; align the bottom of your feet with the 15 inch line on the tape measure. Step forward three times for at least one second and record your furthest distance. Those over 65 should be able to reach between 17.5 and 15.5 inches, depending on gender; a 25 year old will be considered flexible if their range spans between 19.5 and 21.5.

body composition

We have all heard of different body types or shapes — the pear, the apple, the hourglass and the rectangle. The apple-shaped individual, the person who carries the most weight above the hips, is thought to have a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, women with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more and men with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more are at higher risk of developing these metabolic syndromes.

To check your numbers, simply measure your waist with a tape measure just above the hips.

Another way to measure your body composition is to determine your BMI. You can use a BMI calculator to check your score. Simply enter your gender, age, height, weight and waist circumference. If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, you are considered to have a healthy BMI.

Remember that there is more than one thing that makes you healthy. And it might be best to stop judging your book – and everyone else’s for that matter – by looking at the cover.