There are ways to tell when it’s time to move ahead in your activities. For example, when you can lift a weight more than 15 times, you know it’s time to add more weight in your strength exercises. When endurance activities no longer feel somewhat hard to you, it’s time to exercise a little longer; or add a little more difficulty, like walking up steeper hills.
As you progress, you can do some simple tests, shown on the right, that will tell you just how far you have come. These tests also can help you assess how fit you are right now, before you have started exercising. After that, try them again every month. Record your scores each time, so you can compare them and see your improvement the next time you test yourself.
You might be interested in doing these tests for at least a couple of reasons. For one, most people make rapid progress soon after they start exercising, and you might find the improvement you see in your scores after just a month encouraging.
For another, these test are a good way of letting you know if you really are progressing. Although it’s normal for your improvement to slow down at times, your test scores should get better overall (unless you have reached your goal and are maintaining your current level).
If you are not in condition to do these tests right now, keep working on your current exercises and activities until you are. Whether you are testing or actually exercising, your pace should never make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseated, and you shouldn’t feel pain. If you have a chronic medical condition, or are at risk of developing one, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
When astronants come back to earth after extended space missions, they sometimes can’t walk or perform other physical activities very well at first. The reason is that the weightlessness of space makes it possible for astronants to push and pull objects without effort, and their muscles become weak as a result. Over here on earth, the same principles applies to muscles of sedentary adults: If you don’t use them, you lose them. The good news is that, at any age, almost any adult can improve strength through exercise.
- Endurance: See how far you can walk in exactly 6 minutes. Write down how far you walked (in feet, blocks, laps, miles, or whatever is convenient for you). Do this test every month. As your endurance improves, you should find that you can walk farther in 6 minutes.
- Lower-Body Power: This test measures your progress in lower-body power. Time yourself as you walk up a flight of stairs (at least 10 steps) as fast as you safely can. Record your score. Repeat the test, using the same stairs, one month later. It should take you less time.
- Strength: Chart how much weight you can lift, and how many times you can lift it. In one month compare to the amount you could lift a month ago.
- Balance: Time yourself as you stand on one foot, without support, for as long as possible (stand near something sturdy to hold onto, in case you lose your balance). Record you score. Repeat the test while standing on the other foot. Test yourself again in one month. The amount of time you can stand on one foot should increase.
Information from the National Institutes of Health publication No. NIH 99-4258. For more free information call the NIH at 800-222-2225.