Five Surprising Tests and What They Reveal About Your Health (Health Central)

Posted: Nov 29, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Health Central on November 29, 2023.


Five Surprising Tests and What They Reveal About Your Health

How long will you live? What’s your risk of heart disease? These at-home challenges can give you a clue about the state of your health—now, and into the future.

By Lisa Bain

You know the usual vital-sign tests at the doctor’s office: The cuff around your arm to monitor your blood pressure, a stethoscope to listen to your lungs, or the occasional needle prick to grab a blood sample. But in between those annual visits, there are easy DIY checks you can do on your own—and each one of them can reveal something specific about the state of your health. Here, five tests to try, and what health experts say about them.

Test Your Longevity

A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that how well adults performed on a 10-second balance test was actually linked to their longevity. In the study, 1,702 adults aged 50 to 75 were asked to try to stand on one leg for 10 seconds. Those who successfully stood for the full duration were less likely to die of all causes over the course of 14 years. Although the researchers do not know how a loss of balance might predict risk of death, they concluded the test could give doctors “useful information regarding mortality risk in middle-aged and older men and women.”

The word “balance” may automatically bring up thoughts of elderly people, since they’re at especially high risk of bone breaks and other injuries from falling. “But the truth is, young people fall at the same rates,” says Harish Chander, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomechanics at Mississippi State University and co-director of its Neuromechanics Laboratory.

But besides the risk of falling, balance is also about being able to get around easily and do things we love doing—whether that’s dancing or playing soccer with your kid.

Test Yourself

Stand on one leg, then bend the knee of your other leg and raise it behind you, resting the foot lightly against the back of the calf of your standing leg. Keep your arms at your side and stare straight ahead. (If you have a joint or spine issue that prevents you from doing this test, talk to your doctor about other ways to evaluate your balance.) Hold your balance for as long as possible, aiming for at least 10 seconds. (Testing on just one leg will do.)

Moves to Improve

Did you wobble a wee bit when doing the test? That’s normal, notes Chander. But if you couldn’t maintain the pose for 10 seconds or more, then your balance could use some improvement. Studies have shown that activities like Tai Chiyoga, and biking can help sharpen it; you can also find simple balance exercises online. And it’s a good idea as well to discuss balance with your doctor so you can be assessed for risk of falling.

Size Up Your Strength

Having strong hands is important for being able to open a pickle jar or grip a pickleball racquet. But it turns out, your grip strength is connected to bigger health measures, studies show. “It’s indicative of a person’s strength capacity globally,” says Mark Peterson, Ph.D., a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine in East Lansing. “People with a stronger grip strength have stronger overall body strength, including their legs, arms, and trunk. A weak grip is a sign of frailty, which is a high predictor of chronic diseases and mortality.” In fact, initial findings from a recent study by Peterson and other researchers found that people with a relatively weak handgrip may have genes that are aging more quickly.

But what if an underlying joint condition like rheumatoid arthritis has decreased your grip strength? You may be an exception to the rule, says Peterson. In that case, “it doesn’t mean that you have overall muscle weakness,” he explains. “It just means that the grip test isn’t the best test for you.” (Check with your health care provider for joint-safe strength tests appropriate for you. One recent study determined an at-home muscular fitness test—including, in order, 60 seconds of sit-ups, push-ups, deep squats, and burpees—could be a valid test of strength based on bodyweight exercises for healthy adults.)

Test Yourself

The most accurate way to test yourself, Peterson says, is with a dynamometer, an easy-to-use handheld device that measures force. These are readily available online for a range of prices, he says, “and the average consumer doesn’t need a research-grade device.” Another simple way to gauge whether your grip strength is low (for those without arthritis), says Peterson: “Do you find yourself having trouble opening most jars? That’s a good indication—but the best way to measure is with a dynamometer.”

Moves to Improve

If your grip is lacking oomph, you don’t need to specifically focus on improving it to boost your health, says Peterson. “Instead, focus on resistance training,” he advises. “Weakness is solved by doing strength training—the best form of exercise, in my opinion—and improving muscle strength overall is the point.” The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing strength exercises for all your major muscles at least twice a week. A bodyweight strength workout like this one from the American Council on Exercise is a good one for beginners, but always check with your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.


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