By: Darrell W. Butler
ACE, NFPT, ISCA Certified Personal Trainer
In many ways, the relationship between man and machine can be even more intimate and personal than the relationship between a man and his wife. You ask a man his anniversary date, and watch the beads of sweat form on his brow as he struggles to “carry the one,” but ask this same man how many miles his Mustang gets per gallon, and he’ll answer before you even finish the question! And the same man who will complain about the amount of time that it takes to clean the bathroom or shop for groceries will gladly take an entire afternoon off from work to detail his Harley or peruse the auto parts store for scented air fresheners!
Yes, the relationship between a man and his vehicle is a uniquely complicated one indeed. But while most men will scoff at the thought of ever missing an oil change, and obsessively check under the hood if they hear even the slightest noise from their car; they will just as easily blow off their own physical performance test with a doctor and not give it a second thought!
Sure, we all know that health care is expensive these days, but that’s actually the reason why you should be paying even closer attention to your overall health. Realistically, many of us simply can not afford to get sick; so it’s smarter to invest some time and resources now to see if our bodies pass inspection instead of putting things off and running into a more costly “repair” job down the line.
With that said, here are three essential tests that you should stop putting off immediately. Gentleman, put down the Turtle Wax and let’s get started; it’s time to hit the human body shop for a quick tune up!
Your simple Three-Point Inspection consists of the following:
1) Blood Pressure – This is the amount of force that blood pumped from your heart, which flows against the blood vessel walls as it circulates throughout your body. The average blood pressure for an adult is approximately 120/80. The higher number (systolic) represents the force when your heart is beating, while the lower number (diastolic) represents when your heart is at rest.
For those of you who fear the doctor’s office, you’ll be happy to know that your average gym or drug store will have the equipment necessary to take your blood pressure for you at little to no cost.
If your pressure is above 140/90, you may need to speak to your physician after all. First sit without talking for two or three minutes, and recheck your pressure to see if the number lowers. However, if it’s consistently above 140/90 you may be at risk for hypertension, better known as high blood pressure.
Hypertension affects nearly half of the American population over 65, especially men and African-Americans, although any age, race or gender could develop this very serious condition. If left untreated, it can lead to stroke, heart attacks, kidney damage and more.
There are no real warning signs for this condition, so your best defense is to check your blood pressure regularly. Some common causes for hypertension are stress, smoking, poor nutrition and the lack of exercise, so it would also help to kick some of those bad habits as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your blood pressure is consistently below 90/60 and you’re suffering from dizziness, nausea or low energy, there may be an underlying condition referred to as hypotension or low blood pressure. In general, having a lower blood pressure is actually a good thing. For example, most athletes have a lower blood pressure because their heart is more efficient at circulating the blood with less effort.
However, if you’re not an exercise enthusiast or suffer from any of the aforementioned accompanying symptoms, you may want to consult with your physician for further evaluation. If left untreated, hypotension could lead to poor circulation of blood to the brain, heart and vital organs. Hypotension is especially prominent with seniors over 65, pregnant women and people on prescription medications or exposed to extreme heat for prolonged periods of time.
2) Cholesterol – Most experts recommend having your cholesterol levels tested every five years after hitting the age of 20, so if the first album that you ever purchased was on a cassette tape and you still haven’t had your levels checked out yet, you’re probably long overdue!
Simply put, cholesterol is the waxy, fatty substance made in your liver and found in animal-based products such as dairy, eggs and meat. Although we mostly hear about the negative aspects of cholesterol, your body actually does require some to produce hormones, ease digestion and function properly. However, it’s only needed in limited doses, so when too much is ingested, health complications such as heart disease may occur. This is the result of the build-up of waxy residue that’s left on the arterial wall as high volumes of cholesterol travel through them. Eventually this buildup restricts the flow of oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart, resulting in various extremely serious medical conditions.
Without getting overly complicated and technical, there are two major classifications of cholesterol. Low density lipoproteins or LDL are commonly referred to as the “bad cholesterol.” This is the type that contributes to the aforementioned waxy build-up on the arterial wall, so the less of this form of cholesterol in your system, the better! Foods that contain high levels of trans fatty acids and saturated fats (such as donuts and cookies) tend to contain more LDL cholesterol, so be careful how much you consume each day.
High density lipoproteins or HDL are commonly referred to as the “good cholesterol,” and are found in foods containing unsaturated fats such as nuts, sunflower seeds and soybeans. Having more of this type is actually a good thing, as HDL assists the body in getting rid of LDL cholesterol.
Doctors recommend that your total of LDL and HDL cholesterol remains below 200. Those between 200 and 239 are borderline high, and those with a total exceeding 240 fall into the high cholesterol classification. In some cases, high cholesterol is due to uncontrollable issues such as family history, age or gender, since post-menopausal women tend to see their LDL levels rise significantly. Other common causes are easier to manage however, such as body weight, poor nutrition or a lack of exercise. Smokers also tend to have less HDL cholesterol in their system as well.
3) Body Composition – Your third major test involves having your body fat percentage measured. Body fat percentage is often confused with the Body Mass Index (BMI) test which provides an “ideal weight” for individuals based solely on age, height and gender. This test doesn’t account for muscle mass however, so it’s possible for an athlete to be misclassified as obese on the BMI scale!
The body fat test is a more accurate indicator of your true fitness level, as it measures the ratio of lean muscle mass to fatty deposits on your body. This test is most commonly performed in one of three ways.
The first way is via a bioimpedance scale, which sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. As you hold on to a handheld device or stand barefoot on a specialized scale, a low signal current is sent through your body. Since fat and muscle conduct the current at different speeds, the machine can calculate what percentage of your body is fatty tissue and what percentage is lean muscle.
This method is fairly accurate, although high volumes of food or liquid in your system may cause the device to miscalculate your reading. Whenever possible, try to have your body fat tested as early in the day as possible – ideally before you exercise, eat or drink too much. This is another test that doesn’t require a doctor or a large investment, as most gyms will perform this task for free. Most department stores also carry relatively inexpensive versions of this scale as well.
If you have been frequenting a gym for awhile now, you may also be familiar with calipers. This is another form of body fat testing that involves a trained professional literally pinching the skin folds in preselected areas of your body and measuring the amount of fat via a mathematical formula.
This form of measurement can be extremely accurate, but much of the accuracy depends on the professional administering the test. If your trainer lacks experience, they may not accurately read your numbers. If you’re utilizing more than one person to take these measurements going forward, they might not pinch in the exact same areas which will cause your results to fluctuate drastically each time. With that said; if you’re not confident in your trainer or prefer not to be pinched, bioimpedance scales have improved to the point where they’re almost just as accurate, and you won’t need anyone else to help you.
There is yet another variation of the body fat test which involves you being immersed in a tank of water and your body fat is calculated by how much water you displace. While this test has been proven to be the most accurate of the options mentioned here, your average gym will not have the equipment necessary to perform this test. You’d most likely have to visit a local college physiology department or elite medical facility. It would also involve you stripping down in front of strangers and getting wet, so this method may be more trouble than it’s worth!
Whichever version of the test you have performed; your final calculation will be based on your age and gender. In extremely general terms, the average male should aim for a body fat percentage between 14-24%, and females between 21-31%. Male athletes should aim for between 5-13% while female athletes should aim for 13-20%. In general, the lower your body fat percentage is, the better off you are.
Bear in mind that some body fat is essential for bodily functions, especially for women, so be careful when dropping to extreme lows. Also bear in mind that the percentages provided above are generalizations. Your gym or bioimpedance scale should have a chart that will tell you how much body fat you should have based on your specific age and gender.
Excess body fat and obesity can lead to severe heart and lung conditions, diabetes and more, so it’s important to exercise regularly and monitor your nutrition habits. If you’ve been keeping track, you’ve probably noticed that proper nutrition and exercise were the solution for nearly every condition mentioned thus far. If you’re not paying attention to these things, it may be a good time to start!
Although we’ve only focused on these three essential tests to get you started, by no means does the full body inspection have to end there. There are many other important measurements and tests that you should have performed such as your blood sugar levels, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, balance and body alignment – the list goes on.
Fancy cars and bikes are definitely a good time, but the same time and care needs to be taken to keep your own engine running smoothly. So have yourself checked out, see where you stand and then make improvements! And you might also want to commit that anniversary date to memory, otherwise, clean bill of health or not, it could still spell the end of the road for you next time you forget!