President John F. Kennedy once said, “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” Since July 16, 1955, the American government has shown at least a political interest in the health of Americans. Under President Eisenhower, the President’s Council on Youth Fitness established a beachhead against the lagging health of American youth compared with citizens of other countries. Military officers in World War 2 complained that their recruits were out of shape. Perhaps Eisenhower’s program was meant to help reverse that condition. However, it wasn’t until President Kennedy that the Commander-in-Chief took an active role in promoting standards and committing resources to them.
After nearly 60 years, the presidential council has expanded its role in a number of directions, including sports, nutrition and—most relevant to this article—adult fitness. The president’s council has had an established standard for nominal health since 2008 and benchmarks have been created for regular, moderate and vigorous activity. In addition, the council has established an online Adult Fitness Test that allows you to compare your scores with those of fellow Americans. The test can be found at http://www.adultfitnesstest.org/dataEntry.aspx.
The areas tested include the following:
- Aerobic fitness—Preparing for the test, you should work up to moderate exercise (e.g. brisk walking) for 30 minutes, 5+ days per week; and vigorous exercise (e.g. running) for 20–30 minutes, 3–4 days per week.
- Muscular strength and endurance—3+ days per week, work up to 3 sets each of 25 half sit-ups and 10–20 push-ups. Between each set, include a short rest.
- Flexibility—Static stretches should be taken to the point of tension, but never to pain. Hold each for 10–30 seconds. Repeat 1–2 additional times.
- Body composition—Your body mass index (BMI) is a measure of height related to weight, with your waist measurement as a health indicator. This should be kept between 18.5–24.9. BMI calculators can be found online.
These sorts of tests can do a lot to raise public awareness and to help focus people on activities that will make a difference. But they will only be effective is they’re used the right way. And using them the right way starts with understanding what these tests are actually measuring and what the results mean. In some ways, measuring your performance in specific exercises relative to a national average may be less helpful than measuring your improvement over time and setting new goals based on your own progress.
When taking on any exercise program or fitness testing, especially when you have not engaged in rigorous physical activity regularly for several years, you should consult with a doctor or physical trainer. Proper preparation, good technique and consistency are the keys to staying healthy and avoiding injury. Regular chiropractic care can also play an important role in helping to speed recovery, prevent future injuries and improve performance. As musculoskeletal system specialists, chiropractors have unique insight into how patients can safely increase their strength, stamina, flexibility and balance. If you want to learn more, just call or visit our office!