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In Shape

How Old Are You Really?
by Carol Krucoff

You know how many candles lit up your last birthday cake. But that number—your chronological age—may be very different from your physiological age, depending on how fit you are. Regular exercise can slow several key aspects of aging—such as loss of muscle and bone—allowing physically active adults to perform like someone much younger than their years.

Physical declines can start in the twenties if people are sedentary, notes Susan Johnson, director of continuing education at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. But at any age, staying fit can slow these declines.

"Physiologically, you can be a lot younger than you are chronologically if you work out," Johnson says.

It's Never Too Late To Turn Back The Clock

Of course you also can be older than your years if you're a sofa spud. But exercise can help boost your fitness at any age, so it's never too late to work out and turn back the clock.

Try these self-tests, adapted from research done at the Cooper Institute. Comparing your scores with the norms for your age and sex can give you a good indication of how fit you are.

The numbers also can provide a good baseline to compare yourself with six weeks or six months from now. When you see that you started out being able to do only as many sit-ups as the average 60-year-old, then after working out for two months, could do as many as the average 30-year-old, that's a great motivator.

1. Upper Body Strength. Perform as many push-ups as you can in one minute. Men should have only their hands and toes touching the floor; women can use the "modified" position, with their hands and knees touching the floor.

Results:

  • The average score for women in their twenties is 26, in their thirties is 21, in their forties is 15, in their fifties is 13 and over sixty is 8.
  • The average score for men in their twenties is 33, in their thirties is 27, in their forties is 21, in their fifties is 15 and over sixty is 15.

2. Abdominal Strength. Perform as many sit-ups as you can in one minute, keeping your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms at your sides and palms down with fingers extended. Curl up only until your shoulder blades lift off the floor, and let your fingers slide forward along the floor about three inches.

Results:

  • An intermediate range for women in their twenties is 25 to 45, in their thirties is 20 to 40, in their forties is 18 to 35, in their fifties is 12 to 30 and over sixty is 11 to 25.
  • The intermediate range for men in their twenties is 30 to 50, in their thirties is 22 to 45, in their forties is 21 to 40, in their fifties is 18 to 35, and over sixty is 15 to 30.

3. Flexibility. To gauge the flexibility of your lower back and hamstrings, tape a yardstick to the floor, then place a foot-long strip of tape perpendicular to the yardstick at the 15-inch mark. Take off your shoes and sit on the floor with your legs straight, straddling the yardstick with the "0" end closest to your groin and your heels on the piece of tape at the 15-inch mark. Place one hand on top of the other and lean forward slowly with your legs straight, reaching as far forward along the yardstick as you can without bending your knees. Your score is the point at which your fingertips touch the yardstick at maximum reach.

Results:

  • The average score for a woman in her twenties is 20" in her thirties is 19", in her forties is 18", in her fifties is 17.9" and over 60 is 16.4".
  • The average score for a man in his twenties is 17.5, in his thirties is 16.5", in his forties is 15.3", in his fifties is 14.5" and over sixty is 13.5".

If you're unhappy with your scores, regular exercise can help you improve them. And be aware that becoming fit is more important than ever with age.

"Our research shows that a physically active person has about a 20-year advantage over a sedentary person in terms of function," says the Cooper Institute's Johnson. For example, the institute's studies show that the treadmill time of a 65-year-old active person is about the same as that of a sedentary 45-year-old.

 

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