Aerobic Fitness Test: The Step Method

To help assess your aerobic fitness, here is a minimum standard: See if you can walk up five flights of stairs at your own pace without stopping, using the railing only for balance. The test may seem too simple to be useful, but in the days before sophisticated exercise tests were widely available, thoracic surgeons used this very test to see if their patients were fit enough to undergo lung operations. In modern terms, people who pass the five-flight test have maximum oxygen uptake values of at least 20. That level will get you through surgery and daily life, but healthy people should use exercise to build up to levels two or even three times higher.

It is unlikely that a health club would ask you to use the stairwell for self-assessment, but it might well use a single 12-inch step or bench to evaluate your fitness. With just a little help, you can do it yourself. Ask someone to time you and count for you so you can concentrate on the task at hand (or foot!). At the signal to begin, step up with your right foot, then bring your left foot up beside it. Follow the "up, up" with "down, down" to complete one step. Repeat at a rate of 24 steps per minute for three consecutive minutes. Then rest in a chair for exactly one minute before taking your pulse. Finally, use the YMCA standards (see table below) to see how you stack up.

The step test can be quite demanding; if you have been diagnosed with heart disease, if you suspect you may have heart disease, or if you have major risk factors, ask your doctor about a formal stress test instead of taking the step test. And if you are out of shape or think the test may be hard for you, take a one-minute pretest to see how you fare.

Step Test Pulse Count (Using a 60 second pulse count)

Age

Good to Excellent

Average to Above Average

Poor to Fair

Men

18–25

84 or lower

85–100

101 or higher

26–35

86 or lower

87–103

104 or higher

36–45

90 or lower

91–106

107 or higher

46–55

93 or lower

94–112

113 or higher

56–65

96 or lower

97–115

116 or higher

Above 65

102 or lower

103–118

119 or higher

Women

18–25

93 or lower

94–110

111 or higher

26–35

94 or lower

95–111

112 or higher

36–45

96 or lower

97–119

120 or higher

46–45

101 or lower

102–124

125 or higher

56–65

103 or lower

104–126

127 or higher

Above 65

105 or lower

106–130

131 or higher

Excerpted from The No Sweat Exercise Plan: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, and Live Longer, by Harvey B. Simon, M.D.

Reprinted by permission of the McGraw-Hill Companies; © Copyright 2005 by President and Fellows of Harvard College. All Rights Reserved.