Senior fitness means different things to different people. While family members, physicians, and physical therapists want seniors to be healthy, most elders not only want to be healthy but also to keep on doing the activities they enjoy, whether it’s solving crossword puzzles or racing marathons. Fortunately, gerontology researchers have developed standardized tests for measuring seniors’ fitness levels. Two tests that you can administer at home will measure aerobic endurance and agility.
Roberta E. Rikli and C. Jessie Jones in Senior Fitness Test Manual (Chicago: Human Kinetics, 2001) compiled statistics on thousands of people between 60 and 94 to develop norms for several tests. This way, Mom and Dad can see how they stack up against people their own age. The test requires about 15 minutes of time, an administrator (you), Mom and Dad’s cooperation, an agreement to stop the tests if things get too hard, and the following equipment:
• A stop watch
• A tape measure or a piece of string or yarn
• A standard straight chair (17 inches from floor to seat) without arms
• A blank stretch of wall
• Eight feet two inches of tape, such as electrical or painter’s tape
• Something to use as a traffic cone, such as a can of beans
• A wood or tile floor
Test of Aerobic Endurance
For the two-minute knees-up step test, measure Dad’s right thigh from the front of his hip bone to the middle of his kneecap. Find the midpoint of this measurement and put a small piece of tape there on the front of his pants. Ask him to face the wall, and place another piece of tape on the wall at the same height as the tape on his pants.
After he practices marching in place, ask Dad to face the wall. It’s okay for him to put his hands on the wall for balance. Ask him to alternate lifting his left knee and then his right knee to the height of the tape. Tell him that you’d like him to do this for two minutes. Tell him that it’s a timed test but that he can stop the test at any point. Squat down so you can see that both knees reach the level of the tape on the wall. Say “Go!” and count 1, 2, 3, and so on each time his right knee reaches the level of the wall tape. The number you reach in two minutes is his raw score.
In the left column of the chart below, find the age closest to his and read across the chart until you find the corresponding range of numbers. If his age isn’t listed, you can extrapolate his approximate score. The “1Q” through “4Q” designations refer to the quartile in which he ranks. For example, if he is a 78-year-old man and you counted 109, he ranks high in the second quartile, which is above average but not in the top category.
Test of Agility
For the eight-foot up-and-go test, you’ll need the straight chair, the stopwatch, the can of beans, eight feet of tape, and the tile or wood floor.
Place the chair with its back to a bare wall or a heavy piece of furniture such as a sturdy sofa. From a point between the front legs of the chair, lay eight feet of tape on the floor straight out in front. Place the cone or can of beans at the end of the tape away from the chair. Ask Mom to sit in the chair with her feet flat on the floor and her hands resting on her knees. Ask her to practice getting up and walking around the can of beans before sitting down again.
When you’re both ready, say, “Go!” and start the stopwatch. She should stand up and walk as quickly as possible without running to just beyond the beans, make the turn, and walk quickly back. When she sits down, note the number of seconds the test took. It’s okay to do the test twice and count the better of the scores.
Breaking the News about Fitness
If your elders scored well, congratulate them and encourage them to keep on exercising. If they didn’t, it may be time to take them to the gym or hire a personal trainer to work with them at home. Just for fun, do the tests yourself to see where you should be at age 60 and beyond. If you don’t score well, get yourself to the gym. Why feel old before you have to? afm
For more information, see the fitness tests for upper body strength and lower body strength at www.strengthmobile.com.
J. Jody Kelly, owner of Strengthmobile, is an ACE-certified personal trainer who conducts sessions in the homes of the elderly or disabled. She races triathlons, lifts weights, and takes Pilates mat classes.