How are you really holding up? There’s a strong correlation between how well aging people do on the following four physical tests and whether they’re likely to experience major health problems, dangerous falls and/or end up in nursing homes in the near future.
Good news: A poor score on these tests doesn’t mean undesirable health outcomes are inevitable. It means that it’s time to get fit—so put on your comfy shoes and give them a try. If you struggle with these tests: You can improve your results, and thus your health, by getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity…plus two low-impact strength-training sessions per week.
Walking-pace test. Time yourself as you walk at your natural pace over a measured distance—ideally 20 feet—indoors on a flat path. Then calculate your walking speed in feet per second. Example: If your path is 20 feet, divide 20 by your time. Don’t rush—what matters is your normal walking speed, not the top speed you can achieve—and don’t chat during this walk. Slow natural walking speeds often suggest that serious health issues might be looming. One study by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia found that for men age 70 and older, walking speeds slower than about 2.7 feet per second—around 1.8 miles per hour—are correlated with dramatically increased risk for death in the coming year. None of the men in that study who walked faster than 4.5 feet per second—around three miles per hour—died during the ensuing year.
Sit-to-stand test. Sit on a stable, straight-backed, armless chair—one where the seat is about 17 inches from the floor—with your arms crossed over your chest. The back of the chair should be against a wall so it won’t move. See how many times you can stand up and sit back down in 30 seconds without using your arms. A man in his 60s should be able to do at least 12 reps…11 in his 70s…eight in his 80s…and seven in his early 90s. A woman, at least 11 in her 60s…10 in her 70s…eight in her 80s…and four in her early 90s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lower scores are correlated with falls and higher levels of dependence on others for care and are predictive of a move into assisted living.
Timed up-and-go test. Place a piece of colored masking tape on the floor 10 feet in front of a stable, nonmovable chair. Ask someone to time how long it takes you to rise from the chair once he/she says “go,” walk past the tape at your normal walking pace, turn and return to sit in the chair. He should stop the timer as soon as your backside hits the seat. You may use any walking aid (cane, walker) you would normally use. Times above 12 seconds are predictive of significant fall risk, according to research in Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy.
Four-stage balance test. Stand near enough to a kitchen counter that it could support you if you had to grab it. Place your feet side by side, so close that they touch, then hold this position for 10 seconds. Next, move one foot slightly forward so that its instep is in contact with the other foot’s big toe, and hold this stance for 10 seconds. Third, position one foot directly in front of the other—heel touching toe—and hold that for 10 seconds. Finally, stand on one foot for 10 seconds. Being unable to maintain any of these positions for at least 10 seconds is correlated with increased risk for falls, according to the CDC.