Read an Excerpt
Knowing Your Numbers
In This Chapter
* Understanding why you need to know your starting point
* Determining your risk of cardiovascular disease
* Knowing what your resting heart rate and blood pressure mean about your health
* Measuring body fat and body mass index (BMI)
* Testing your heart, lungs, and endurance
* Assessing strength and flexibility
* Understanding why you have to retest
* Figuring out your personal testing scorecard
When you go out for a walk, certain signposts mark the progress of your workout. For instance, when you walk past the yellow house on the corner of Fair and Franklin, you know that you're about a half mile into your walk. You may also measure your workout progress by how long you've been walking or by how tired you feel at certain points along your route.
To measure the progress of your entire fitness program, you can determine some physical and health signposts. That's why you evaluate your fitness level before you begin your walking program. By knowing where you're starting from, you can eventually see how far you've come.
This chapter contains some simple fitness tests you can do yourself. These tests are not pass or fail. Their purpose is to enlighten you about which aspects of your fitness level could stand some improvement.
The tests I've selected are specifically geared toward walkers, but certainly dozens of other evaluations are valid and can give you a reasonably accurate snapshot of your health and physical fitness level. If you find a test somewhere else thatyou like better than the ones I provide in this chapter, feel free to take it. Record your initial results in the personal testing scorecard (Table 1- 1) at the end of this chapter. Use them as a basis of comparison and measure of progress when you compare them to your retest results a few months down the road.
You may want to photocopy the personal testing scorecard (Table 1-1) for family members and friends.
If you do not feel comfortable testing yourself, you can hire a medical and fitness professional to help you with the process. A qualified personal trainer may charge you between $50 and $250 to do a complete fitness evaluation that includes an explanation of the results and some recommendations on how to proceed with your walking and overall workout program.
The tests in this chapter are not designed to take the place of a thorough checkup by your doctor. No self-evaluation can ever do that.
To complete these tests, you need about 45 minutes. You also need access to a running track or a measured 1-mile route and the following materials:
* A pen or pencil
* A stopwatch or a watch with a second hand or timer
* A measuring tape
* A calculator
* An exercise mat, thick bath towel, or padded carpet
Understanding your Risk for Heart Disease
Assessing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is important to ensure that it's safe for you to begin exercising. By asking yourself a few simple questions and answering them as honestly as possible, you can get a reasonably accurate picture of your cardiac health risk factors.
Answer yes or no to the following questions. Jot your answers down in the margin or on a separate sheet of paper.
* Has a doctor told you that you have some form of heart disease?
* Do you sometimes have pains in your heart and chest?
* Do you sometimes feel faint or have dizzy spells?
* Has your doctor ever told you that you have high blood pressure?
* Have you gone more than a year without doing regular, vigorous exercise?
* Are you above your optimal weight? (See the section "Figuring Out Your Body Weight and Body Composition," later in this chapter.)
* Do you smoke cigarettes or have you smoked in the last two years?
* Has your doctor ever told you that you have high cholesterol?
* Are you currently taking any prescribed medications?
* Were either of your parents or any of your siblings ever diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 60?
* Has your doctor ever told you that you have high blood sugar or diabetes?
* Do you have severe arthritis or a similar limitation that may prevent you from exercising safely?
* Do you have any other condition, problem, or limitation such as chronic back pain or knee pain that may make it unsafe for you to begin an exercise program?
Answering the preceding questions is more than just a way to increase your health awareness. Take a look at the following to determine whether you should consult with your physician before proceeding with an exercise program.
* If you answer yes to one or more of the questions and you are over 35 years of age, I recommend seeing a physician for a checkup before you begin exercising.
* If you are younger than 35 and answer yes to two or more of the questions, you should also visit your doctor before you begin exercising.
* If you are younger than 35 and answered yes to no more than one of the questions, it is probably safe to begin an exercise program.
* If you are 45 years or older and haven't had a medical checkup in more than a year, you may want to go ahead and make an appointment with your doctor just to play it safe, even if you didn't answer yes to any of the questions.
The questions in this section are by no means a substitute for medical advice! Many other factors, such as your stress level or the fact that you smoke cigars, may also affect your health and ability to exercise. If you have any reason to think that you may have a condition that can limit your ability to exercise, play it safe and check in with your doctor.
I know that taking this extra step can be a pain because it delays the start of your exercise program, but it ensures that you can exercise safely and comfortably. Besides, most physicians want you to exercise. Even if your doctor finds a problem, she can usually correct it with medication or some other means and get you out and walking in no time.
Determining your Resting Heart Rate
The average, healthy person has a resting heart rate between 60 and 90 beats per minute (bpm). It may be slower if you're in good physical condition or genetically predisposed to a low heart rate; it may be higher if you're stressed out or you recently had caffeine or smoked a cigarette. Because exercise makes your heart more efficient, your resting heart rate will probably slow down within a few months of beginning your exercise program. It's not uncommon to see drops of 5 to 30 beats per minute as a result of regular exercise.
Here's how to determine your heart rate: Place your watch so that you can look at it easily. Gently press the tips of your middle and index fingers of your right hand against the base of your left wrist directly below your thumb. You should feel a light pulsing sensation; this is your heart rate, also known as your pulse. Count how many beats you feel in one minute and record this number in Table 1-1.
You may also want to check: your blood pressure, although this is difficult to do on your own. The average person has a blood pressure close to 120/80. If it is typically higher than 140/90, this may indicate some health concerns and require a trip to the doctor. A lower blood pressure reading usually means that your heart doesn't have to work very hard to pump the blood through your blood vessels.
I don't recommend those automatic blood pressure machines you find in drugstores or department stores; I have found that they give wildly varied blood pressure readings within the space of a few minutes, so I can't bring myself to trust them. You can ask your doctor, nurse, or qualified personal trainer at your gym to take your blood pressure. Or look for a clinic, health fair, or free medical screening at work or in your community.
Figuring Out your Body Weight and Body Composition
This next group of tests helps make sense of your body weight and what it consists of. You may be amazed at how many ways you can measure your body. Consider all these measurements together to determine whether you are at your optimal weight and body composition.
Measuring your body weight
Measure your body weight on an accurate scale and record to the nearest half pound. Record your weight in Table 1-1. It's probably most accurate to weigh yourself in the nude because the weight of clothing and shoes can vary a great deal, depending upon your outfit. When you reweigh, try to do so at approximately the same time of day. Your weight can change by as much as five pounds during the course of a day. Don't weigh yourself more than once a week.
The weight you see on the scale tells you how many pounds you are but not much else. Even those height/weight tables developed by insurance companies don't really give you much usable or accurate information. Neither the scale nor those charts tell you what your pounds are made of.
I used to work with three women who each weighed 130 pounds and who ranged from 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 11 inches in height. One of them was a muscular, body- building type, another was a lithe dancer, and the third was a triathlete with a little extra padding of fat which probably contributed to her success in swim events. According to the scale, all three women were very similar. However, looking at them side by side, you really get a sense that scale weight alone does not tell the entire story.
Don't weigh yourself or at least limit the number of times you do so if the numbers on the scale upset you. I personally never weigh myself and haven't in nearly ten years. I go by my clothing size and my body composition numbers.
Taking measurements of your body
Use your tape measure to make the following measurements to the nearest quarter inch. Take all measurements on the right side of your body. If you want, you can have a person whom you trust to keep your secrets help you take these measurements. Record the results in Table 1-1.
* Upper arm: Measure the largest part of your upper arm.
* Chest: Measure across your back and to the front, across the center of your chest.
* Waist: Measure the narrowest part of your torso above the belly button and below your chest.
* Hips: With your legs together, measure your hips and buttocks across the widest point.
* Thigh: Measure the widest circumference of your upper leg.
* Calf: Measure the widest circumference of your lower leg.
There are no "good" measurements or "bad" measurements. Measurements are more useful than straight scale weight for tracking changes because they indicate subtle improvements in your body composition. You may not have dropped a pound according to your bathroom scale, but you may have lost several inches on your thighs and hips.
Determining your body mass index
Body mass index (BMI) is a way of relating your height and weight to determine how fat you are.
You can figure out your BMI on your own, but you may need a calculator to perform these four easy mathematical steps. Take a deep breath it's only arithmetic.
1. Divide your body weight by 2.2.
For a 110-pound person, the calculation looks like this: 110 ÷ 2.2 = 50.
2. Measure your height in inches and divide it by 39.4.
So, for instance, if you are 5 feet tall, that means you are 60 inches tall. 60 ÷ 39.4 = 1.5.
3. Multiply your answer to Step 2 by itself.
For example, 1.5 x 1.5 = 2.3.
4. Finally, take the number you arrived at in Step I and divide it by the number you arrived at in Step 3. Record your results in Table 1-1.
Your final number is an estimation of your BMI. To carry our example through, 50 ÷ 2.3 = 22. This means your BMI is approximately 22.
What does your final number mean? In 1999, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued the following BMI guidelines:
* BMI of 18.5 or below: You're considered underweight.
* BMI between 18.5 and 24.9: You're in the healthy range.
* BMI between 25 and 29.9: You're considered overweight.
* BMI of 30 or greater: You're considered obese.
BMI is a good though not perfect guide for determining whether you may need to lose or gain weight. For example, BMI measurements for extremely muscular athletes or pregnant women are not very accurate indicators. And, if your BMI is between 25 and 29, you shouldn't necessarily freak out about your weight. You must also consider other health factors such as high blood pressure, whether you exercise, your smoking habits, and your family history of developing heart disease to decide whether you need to drop a few pounds.
For those who fall within that 25 to 29 range, the NIH also recommends looking at your waist measurement. Men with a waist measurement greater than 40 and women with a waist measurement greater than 35 have a greater risk of developing heart disease than those with smaller waist measurements; if you fall into this category, you need to seriously consider losing weight for health reasons.
Measuring your waist-to-hip ratio
To determine this number, you can perform one simple mathematical step: Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. This number equals your waist- to-hip ratio. Here's a sample calculation to show you how easy it is.
If your waist measurement is 30 and your hip measurement is 36, you divide 30 by 36.30 ÷ 36 = 0.83 for a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.83.
Men with a waist-to-hip ratio greater than 1 have a higher health risk. Women with a waist-to-hip ratio greater than 0.85 have a higher health risk.
If your ratio falls above these recommended numbers, you need to seriously consider losing weight. However, remember to take into account your scores for BMI and body fat percentage to help you make that decision.
Figuring out your body fat percentage
For this test, you need your hip measurement and your height in inches. Refer to the body fat chart in Figure 1-1. Place your tape measure or a ruler on the chart in a straight line between your hip measurement and your height. Draw a straight line between the two points with your pencil or pen. Your estimated body fat is the point where the line crosses the "percent fat" scale in the center. Record this number in Table 1-1 at the end of this chapter.
Your body fat percentage is an estimate of how much of your weight is fat and how much of it is lean body tissue, such as muscle, organs, and bones. If you determined from the chart in Figure 1-1 that your body fat is 20 percent, this means that an estimated 20 percent of your scale weight is fat.