You probably won’t be surprised to know that the more physically fit you are, the longer you’ll likely live. I’d like to tell you about a simple test score that can predict your life expectancy based on your fitness levels. Also, in relation to improving/maintaining fitness levels, I’d like to tell you some surprising news about just how much exercise you may really need to get/stay more physically fit.
Do You Know Your Sit/Stand Score?
Back in December 2012, cardiovascular researchers published the findings of a study they did in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention. The study focused on a simple sit/stand test that they reported can pretty accurately predict your longevity. As a result of this study, many doctors around the country are using this score to tell them, basically, what shape their patients are in and what they need to work on to improve their results. Here’s how it works:
You simply sit on the floor and try to stand up with as little assistance as possible – not using your knees or your hands, or a nearby chair for support. The better able you are to stand on your own, the better your muscle and skeletal strength is. Scoring is as follows:
0-3 low, 3.5-5.5 low-moderate, 6-7.5 moderate, 8-10 moderate-high
In their study, the researchers followed up on 2002 adults aged 55-81. They found that of the 159 people who died during the study period, all but 2 of them had low (0-3) scores. They made the prognosis that if you have a 0-3 score, you’re life expectancy is less than 6 years.
BUT, the researchers also cautioned, you can change this score pretty quickly if you make the effort to improve your muscular-skeletal fitness. Even a 1 point improvement in your score can reduce your mortality rate by 21%! That’s a pretty big improvement. So, you can go from the 0-3 score to the 3.5-5.5 score fairly quickly by getting more exercise. After a few months of regular exercise, your score could be much higher. Exercise that builds bone, muscular strength AND flexibility is the key to improving your score. This could include:
1. Endurance exercise. Increases strength, endurance, lung and heart capacity. This can include swimming, bicycling, walking briskly, rowing. Also, using the stairs at work, not using a golf cart, stretching more doing housework can help.
2. Impact exercise. Foot/pavement impact type exercise helps build bone density as well as muscular strength faster. Jumping rope, playing basketball, doing fast interval sprinting on a school gym track, rebounding for 10-15 minute intervals.
3. Weight resistance using free weights are good, using your own body is even better as it also builds flexibility and strength. Weight machines are okay to start if your balance is not so great, but try to progress to free weights and/or whole body exercise (TRX, Kettlebells, flexible bands, fluidity bar,) soon.
4. Interval aerobic exercise. It’s recently been reported by researchers that too much continuous aerobic exercise, like 45-60 minutes every day, can actually work against your heart strength. You want to constantly strengthen your heart by challenging it with short bursts of intense aerobic exercise – say 1-2 minutes at a time – for not more than about 10-15 minutes in a set, 3 times a week. This also helps burn fat and decrease hemoglobin A1c levels that when high can fuel inflammation, a disease precursor condition.
How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?
Typically, doctors and physical fitness experts have told patients that they likely need to do both aerobic and resistance exercise at least 2-3 times a week to yield any significant improvement in muscle strength and endurance. Yet, recent research out of the University of Alabama recently reported that people over 60 – particularly women – may only need to exercise 1 day a week to achieve significant results. Their study measured the muscle strength and endurance benefits gained in groups doing aerobic/resistance training 1-3 times a week. All of the groups benefitted in strength and endurance; yet, there were no significant difference in gains between the groups who spent less time versus those who spent more time.
So, a 1 day a week prescription of combining both aerobic and resistance training may work better time-wise for some people. If your sit/stand score shows that you are making significant progress than this formula could work for you. However, I should add that if you need to lose weight as well, exercising only 1 day a week might not help you much in that area. Get your weight to a normal level and then perhaps you could go to 1 day per week exercise maintenance.
Doctors have long known that your muscle-bone strength, physical endurance, heart-lung capacity, and flexibility can determine how healthy and independent you’ll stay as you get older. So, don’t be surprised the next time you go for your yearly physical if your doctor asks you to sit on the floor and scores you as you try to stand up. But knowing your sit/stand score can tell you where your longevity fitness level is and what you need to work on.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.