5 Health Self-Tests That Predict Longevity

health self tests

How healthy ARE you? Are you the picture of good health or not as healthy and physically fit as you’d like to be? If you feel good, have a good energy level and the stamina to do the things you enjoy, that’s a good sign – but wouldn’t it be nice if there were health self-tests you could do to see how healthy and fit you really are?

Well, there are. Researchers have come up with a number of self-tests you can do at home to see how likely it is you’ll still be alive a decade from now. No, you don’t have to get a blood test or a physical exam to complete these tests. You can do them in the comfort of your home.

What’s Your Reaction Time?

Quick! Quick! How fast can you react? Reaction time is an indicator of how quickly your nervous system responds and reacts to sudden changes, which is a marker for overall health.

In one study, researchers measured the reaction time of over 5,000 young and middle-aged adults. Then they compared the results to how many were still alive 15 years. Even after controlling for other health risk factors, slower reaction times were linked with a greater risk for death from heart disease and all causes.

Curious as to how quickly YOU react? You can check your reaction time online. Here’s a link:

Reaction Time Test

Word of warning. Checking your reaction time and trying to beat your last score can be addictive. Don’t worry if your reaction time is a little slower than you expected. Reaction time slows with age, so you won’t have the reaction time of a 20-year old if you’re 60.

Walking Speed

Are people always telling you to slow down? That’s a good sign! According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, walking briskly is linked with a lower risk of dying over the next decade.

A study carried out on women in their mid-70s showed those who walked at the briskest pace had a 91% chance of being alive at age 85 while slow-pokes had only a 35% chance.

The theory is people who are healthy enough to walk briskly have decent cardiovascular fitness and, therefore, a lower risk of dying of heart disease and other causes.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, walking speed is as good of a marker for longevity as more established markers like blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and smoking status.

So what’s considered a brisk pace? People who walk at about 2.2 miles per hour have an average life expectancy, based on studies. For every 0.1 meters per second faster, the risk of dying over the next 10 years decreased by 12%

Resting Pulse Rate

What’s your resting pulse rate? It’s easy to check, and the value is a good marker for how physically fit you are. A normal pulse rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A slower heart rate, in the 60 to 70 range, or even lower if you exercise regularly, often means your heart is operating efficiently.

A healthy, fit heart can pump more blood with each beat, so it doesn’t have to beat as many times per minute to deliver oxygen to tissues. A high resting heart rate, in the mid-80s and greater, means your heart could use some conditioning.

There are some exceptions to a lower heart rate being an indicator of health. A very slow heart rate, below 60 beats per minute, especially if you don’t exercise regularly, may be a sign of conduction problems, a condition called heart block.

Plus, some medications can artificially raise or lower your heart rate. Therefore, resting heart rate is not ALWAYS a reliable health and fitness test.

Suggestion: if you have a heart rate below 60 and you’re not exercising regularly or you have a heart rate above 100 at rest, see your doctor as a precaution.

The Sit-Rise Test

Your ability to lower yourself into a sitting position and rise up without using your hands for support is another measure of overall health and fitness. Research shows it’s a good indicator of how likely you are to die over the next 5 years.

Rather than describe in detail how to do it and score yourself, here’s a video:

How well did you do?

If you couldn’t do it without using your hands for support, don’t fret – do something about it. Use it as a sign you need to work on balance and strength training. It’s never too late to improve your physical fitness and health.

Heart Rate Recovery

Speaking of exercise, the next time you do an aerobic workout, see how long it takes for your heart rate to drop after stopping. How quickly it slows down is an indicator of how fit you are from a cardiovascular standpoint AND your risk of dying prematurely. It’s like a mini-exercise stress test. Here’s how to test heart rate recovery at home:

  • Exercise hard for a full two minutes. (Use a stopwatch, Fit Bit, or iPhone as a timer) Jumping jacks, running vigorously in place or jumping rope are good ways to get your heart rate up quickly.
  • After two minutes, stop exercising and immediately check your heart rate by for 20 seconds and multiplying by 3. Write down the number.
  • Wait one minute and recheck your heart rate. Write the number down.
  • Compare the two values.

The difference between the two numbers should be 12 or greater, meaning your heart rate dropped by at least 12 beats after one minute of rest. If it didn’t slow that quickly, it suggests your risk for dying of heart-related problems over the next five years is greater than average. It also means it’s time to work on your cardiovascular fitness?

The Bottom Line

Don’t let the results of these tests worry you if you didn’t perform well. The results should motivate you to begin an exercise program whether it be brisk walking, a step class, kickboxing or some other form of exercise you enjoy.

You need to work your body against resistance too. Strength training is just as important as aerobic exercise, if not more important. As this article shows, you don’t have to work up a sweat to get benefits.

Also, you lose muscle and strength every decade after the age of 30 and it accelerates the older you get. If weights aren’t your thing, invest in resistance bands and commit to 15 minutes of training at least every other day.

If there’s one thing that can change your life and your health, it’s regular physical activity. No, it doesn’t always feel good while you’re doing it, but you’ll feel BETTER when you’re not doing it because your energy level will be higher and you’ll be stronger.

A little short-term discomfort can pay off with big health dividends. Plus, if you find a form of exercise you enjoy, it can even be fun!

Have we convinced you to start exercising? 

If you found this article to be helpful, give it a Tweet or Facebook share. The more people we can motivate to take control of their health – the better. It’s not always easy – but it’s worth it. 

References:

Huffington Post 50 “Walking Speed Could Predict Life Span in Seniors: Study
New York Times Well. “Reaction Time May Predict Longevity”
PLOS One. “Reaction Time and Mortality from the Major Causes of Death: The NHANES-III Study” January 29, 2014.
Discovery Newsletter. “Walking Speed Could Predict Lifespan in Seniors”
WebMD. “Researchers Find Heart Rate Worth a Thousand Words”
Circulation.2011; 124: 1520-1526

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

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