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Time for a Fitness Checkup


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As the year winds down, it's a good idea to re-evaluate how our fitness has improved over the months and to create a plan for the year ahead. It's time to congratulate ourselves if we've improved, then see which areas could use some help.

Each person usually has one aspect of fitness that needs more work - flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, strength, balance, agility and hand-eye coordination.

We can get an unscientific estimate of our progress by comparing how we're doing now to our baseline at the beginning of the year. Ask yourself if:

-you can move faster or go longer distances.

-reach farther toward your toes while seated.

-lift heavier weights.

-maintain better balance while standing on one foot.

If you're doing better in all of those aspects, you've improved your total fitness.

For a more-formal evaluation, you might try a fitness assessment. Comprehensive fitness assessments typically can be found at the exercise-science departments of local universities. Reputable health clubs typically will require a fitness assessment before their personal trainers design a fitness program for you. How else would they know what needs work?

Here are some components of a fitness assessment:

Personal data: age, weight, height, list of any injuries and medical conditions

Body-fat testing: Most facilities will use the skinfold calipers, in which folds of your skin are pinched at various locations, such as the abdomen and the upper thigh, to get a body-fat estimate. Personal trainers and exercise scientists may use the results of the skinfold test along with your waist-hip-ratio. The more-precise measurement method - DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) - usually is too expensive for health clubs to offer and is typically available only in university/research facilities.

Cardiorespiratory fitness evaluation: This measures your body's ability to sustain activity. Low cardiorespiratory fitness may mean that you are at higher risk for heart disease.

A test to measure your VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is usually limited to health and cardiology settings. But there are other tests that can provide a decent estimate.

Your tester will determine your resting heart rate in beats per minute. At a fitness facility, you may be asked to take a one-mile walk, which determines how quickly you can complete a mile. After you finish the mile, your heart rate will be measured, and you will be asked about the level of your exertion based on a scale of 0 to 10, or 6 to 20. In the Cooper run/walk test, you run or walk continuously for 12 minutes, then the distance you covered and your heart rate are measured.

Strength test: You complete the maximum number of pushups and crunches that you can possibly do in 60 seconds.

Flexibility test: In the sit-and-reach test, you sit on the floor with your feet resting on the side of a box with a measuring scale on top, while your arms reach as far as you can on the measuring scale.

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(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@ocregister.com.)

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(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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