NEW YORK (Reuters) - Seniors trying to assess their fitness do not need to pound a treadmill, grunt out a series of crunches or even break a sweat.
Fitness experts say a few tests involving activities such as standing, sitting, walking and back-scratching can predict how well people will be able to perform everyday tasks as they age.
Dr. Michele Olson, professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama, said the tasks show older people how much muscle and joint function they have.
“If you can’t walk six minutes at a comfortable pace,” Olson explained, “it becomes quite obvious that your cardio fitness needs attention.”
The 30-second chair-stand gauges lower body strength by the number of sits to full stands than can be done without using the arms.
“If you can’t properly sit down in a chair and stand up for more than a couple of times before your legs and/or back feels very weak, your core needs some serious attention,” she said.
The back-scratch test, or how close the hands can be brought together behind the back, indicates shoulder flexibility. Other tests include a two-minute step-up task and a 30-second arm curl.
Dr. C. Jessie Jones, co-author with Dr. Roberta Rikli of “Senior Fitness Test Manual, Second Edition,” said six tests can measure upper and lower body strength, upper and lower body flexibility, aerobic endurance and overall mobility.
Among her favorites is the Eight-Foot-Up-and-Go, which counts the seconds to get up from a seated position, walk eight feet (2.4 meters), turn and return to seated.
“It measures overall motor ability, power, speed and balance and is a wonderful predictor of risk for falls,” said Jones, a professor in health sciences at California State University, Fullerton.
“We define fitness as having the physical ability to perform normal everyday activities,” Jones added.
American Council on Exercise spokesperson Cris Dobrosielski weaves the tests into his sessions with the older Americans at his San Diego clinic.
Left unattended, fitness-related declines can be dramatic, said Dobrosielski, a strength and conditioning coach.
“Retaining lean muscle mass may be the most important thing adults can do in terms of youthful appearance, energy and strength, and shoveling the driveway or walking with your grandkids.”
Olson and Jones suggest younger people take some of the tests to see how they stack up against seniors.
“It may be quite revealing,” Olson said.
Editing by Patricia Reaney and Nick Zieminski