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Healthy Living

Measure your fitness level

These four simple tests show how you stack up against others your age

The signs of declining fitness can be subtle. Your legs may complain when you climb the stairs; running for the bus may take your breath away, or an exercise routine that you used to accomplish easily may become hard going.

Couch Potato

It's easy to ignore those signs, write them off as the natural effects of getting older, or assume that nothing can help. But waning fitness should not be ignored: It can lead to such everyday mishaps as sore muscles and sprains, and also have farther-reaching health consequences. A higher risk of coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer is associated with declining aerobic fitness and strength. Stiff or weak limbs may lead to strains and sprains. And poor balance can increase the risk of falls and broken bones.

Fortunately, the right exercise combinations can restore fitness at virtually any age. While aerobic capacity decreases with age, and strength can decline by 15 percent every decade from age 50, much of the decline is preventable or reversible with the right exercise routine. Aerobic exercise can improve heart and lung capacity and reduce blood pressure even in your 60's and beyond, and strength-building exercises can add power to muscles even in your 80's and 90's.

Measuring your current fitness is a good first step for both protecting the shape you're in and motivating yourself to do better if you're out of condition. This fitness checkup doesn't require the help of exercise specialists, a visit to a fitness center, or complicated equipment. We've selected four simple tests for which average benchmarks are available for adults of different ages. They are adapted from the work of James M. Rippe, M.D., founder and director of Rippe Lifestyle Institute in Shrewsbury, Mass., and strength-training authority Wayne Westcott, Ph.D.

For a profile of your current fitness, take the four do-it-yourself tests that follow and compare your results with the average for your age group (see chart). When taken periodically, these tests can also be a rough guide to how much good your exercise program is doing and whether it needs adjusting to improve a particular aspect of fitness. What's above average? Experts have no overall data, but if your scores meet the averages of those considerably younger, you should be encouraged

On to the tests. . .

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