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Ready To Start Exercising? Begin With These Simple Health Assessments


If you read any articles about starting an exercise program, one of the first suggestions is always to see your doctor for a health assessment. If you’re at all overweight, you might be thinking the last thing you want to do is subject yourself to a doctor’s criticism!

Don’t worry – if the thought of seeing your doctor for a fitness assessment stresses you out, you can also schedule one through a personal trainer at a gym or at the YMCA. That’s a good starting point, but I will caution you that you definitely should at least talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program if:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with heart problems, high blood pressure or other medical conditions
  • You’ve been sedentary for over a year
  • If you’re over 65 and don’t currently exercise
  • You’re pregnant
  • You have diabetes
  • You ever experience chest pains, dizziness or fainting spells
  • You’re recovering from an injury or illness
  • You have a diagnosed medical condition or illness (

Use your best judgment whether you need to see a doctor (although a full examination, if you haven’t had one in a while, is always a good idea). Otherwise, just schedule a fitness assessment at a place where you feel comfortable. Here’s what you can expect in an assessment:

Health Assessments – What To Expect

You will probably be given a health questionnaire, so that the person you’re working with can get a good idea about your health history, any injuries or illness, and your experience with exercising in the past. After that, the tester will give you a series of simple tests:

Body composition – Also known asĀ  a body fat test, the trainer will use calipers to measure four areas of your body – your abdomen, hip, arm (triceps area), and thigh. If you haven’t had a body fat test before, rest assured it’s pretty painless. Calipers are just little plastic measuring devices, as pictured on the right here:

Cardiovascular – Depending on how thorough your assessment is, you may also have a cycle ergometer test, where you pedal on a stationary bike for several minutes, and your heart rate is assessed once per minute. There are several different types of tests to assess cardiovascular health. Another is the three-minute step test where you step on and off a 12-inch stool for three minutes, and then your heart rate is taken.

Neither of these tests is meant to exhaust you, so don’t worry about being unable to take the test. You can take it as slowly as you need to in order to complete the test.

Flexibility – This is usually a simple sit and reach test, and it measure the flexibility of your lower back and hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thighs). You complete the test by sitting on the floor with your feet flat against a “sit and reach box.” Then you just reach forward as far as you can. A tape measure at the top of the box will allow the tester to assess your flexibility. Here’s what the box looks like:

Muscular strength and endurance – A short strength test might also be part of your health assessment. This is more likely to occur if you are working with a trainer so she or he will be able to determine a good starting place for your workouts. It’s another simple test that won’t be too strenuous. Usually a basic bench press test or a one-minute sit-up test is used.

Baseline Measurements

You can also expect basic body measurements to be taken. It’s good to get all your baseline numbers, because then as you start working out, you’ll be able to watch your numbers go down – a great motivator! You can expect the following measurements to be taken:

Height/Weight – This will be used to assess your Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a calculation that will tell you your weight status (underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese). As that number changes due to exercise, it will be a good way to monitor your progress.

Resting heart rate

Resting blood pressure

That’s it! Pretty painless! If you’re feeling like you might be ready to start an exercise program, getting a fitness assessment is a great place to start. It will get you moving in the right direction, and then you’ll be all set to push yourself to the limits! Have fun!