These exercises can provide useful feedback on your health
Many of us worry about our health as we enter midlife and beyond. Little changes—a slowdown in our daily run, a wobble on the stairs, a task that slips our mind—can raise nagging questions.
Visiting the doctor regularly and undergoing recommended screenings are important ways to monitor your health. However, home tests can yield useful information to discuss with your doctor, according to physicians and researchers. They say simple exercises like standing on one leg, measuring the distance you can walk and standing up from sitting can all provide helpful data.
Doctors say it isn’t a bad idea to start thinking about tracking your performance on these tests when you’re in your 40s or 50s, the recommended starting ages for many professionally administered screenings for aging-linked diseases. Here are some exercises you can do at home that doctors suggest. None is a substitute for regular medical care and professional assessments, and you should talk with your doctor before doing them.
One-legged standing test
The average person under the age of 70 should be able to stand on one leg for 10 seconds at a time, says Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, a sports and exercise physician in Rio de Janeiro.
Dr. Araújo was the lead author of a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which found that the ability of middle-aged and older adults to stand barefoot on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with higher rates of survival years later. Researchers used an adjusted model that accounted for factors including age, sex, body-mass index and comorbidities.
Try it at home while brushing your teeth, but make sure you have a nearby wall or person to hold on to if you start to wobble. Keep your arms and elbows extended naturally by your side, and place the front foot of the lifted leg on the back of your opposite calf. If you can’t maintain a static stance for 10 seconds, you should consider consulting a physical therapist or doctor about your fitness level. In some cases, they may recommend further neurological testing, says Dr. Araújo.
The sit-to-stand test involves sitting in an armless chair and timing how long it takes you to stand up and sit back down. At home, a friend or loved one can time you. Sit in a chair with your arms crossed over your chest, then stand up while keeping them crossed, and sit back down five times.
The average person in their 60s should be able to complete this sequence in 11.4 seconds, a person in their 70s should be able to complete it in 12.6 seconds and a person in their 80s should be able to complete it in 14.8 seconds, says Natasha Bhuyan, a Phoenix-based primary-care physician and regional medical director at membership-based primary-care practice One Medical. The times come from an analysis of studies that have looked at the sit-to-stand test, she says.
Like the one-legged stance test, the sit-to-stand test measures balance, which is an important indicator of long-term health and a predictor of falls, says Dr. Bhuyan. The test also evaluates strength in the lower extremities. If you don’t perform well, talk with your primary-care doctor.
The number of push-ups you can do may provide useful feedback about your musculoskeletal health. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among men with an average age of 40, participants able to complete fewer than 10 push-ups (without long pauses) were at a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those on the upper end of the spectrum of endurance, who could do more than 40. For men in their 50s and 60s who can’t do more than 10, he says, the results should be a red flag. “It’s probably confirmation of what you already believed, which is that you might be neglecting strength and resistance training,” says Nathan LeBrasseur, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging. The study only included men. It’s unclear whether similar thresholds would be predictive for women, says Dr. LeBrasseur. In other strength assessments, thresholds are often different for men and women, so further studies would need to investigate the right metrics for women, he says.
Six-minute walk test
In this test, measure how far you can power walk (not run, not stroll) in six minutes. If you don’t get farther than 350 meters, or about 1,150 feet, that could indicate other health issues, according to physicians. The exercise helps measure endurance and fitness, which can provide clues to your cardiovascular and lung health. There is no perfect age to start this test, says Dr. Bhuyan. Doctors often perform it with patients as people transition to Medicare coverage at age 65, she says, if they have concerns about mobility issues. (In a clinical setting, the test is often performed in a long hallway.)
You can try doing it yourself earlier. Some people may want to start in their 50s, Dr. Bhuyan notes, especially if they are experiencing shortness of breath while walking.
Another version of the test is to visit a 400-meter track and time yourself to see how long it takes you to power walk one lap. A time longer than six minutes and 40 seconds would be “of significant concern” for a person in their 50s, says Dr. LeBrasseur.
If the distance is challenging to complete, or if you are seeing a significant increase in the time it takes you to complete the same distance year-over-year, consult your doctor.
Cognitive health in midlife is an important predictor of health later on, neurologists say. It’s a good idea to get a baseline measurement around age 65 or earlier if you have a family history of cognitive decline or are noticing yourself forgetting something that used to be a no-brainer, such as paying bills.
The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) is an at-home, 10 minute to 15 minute screening test that can help detect early signs of cognitive, memory or thinking impairments, says neurologist Douglas Scharre, who developed the exam. It includes memory recall questions and simple math problems.
A digital version of the exam automatically calculates your score at the end. Users must pay for the digital version. For people who prefer the free, printable version, Dr. Scharre recommends taking the results to your primary-care doctor for scoring and interpretation.
If further evaluation is recommended, your doctor might suggest you take a test called the Mini-Cog. The test is administered by a professional, says Sonja Rosen, chief of geriatric medicine at Cedars-Sinai. Advertisement - Scroll to Continue