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How Fit Is Your Heart?

Updated on March 22, 2011

If you want to know how fit your heart is, one of the simplest ways is to use the 'Harvard Step Test' where you step up and down on a bench for a few minutes, then see how your heart recovers from the effort.

You can perform this test at home. All you need is a bench 20 inches (50 cm) high or a flight of stairs, and a watch with a second hand. Step from the floor on to the bench or the second step of the stairs (missing out the first) and down again, 30 times a minute for four minutes. Time yourself with the watch, or, if you have one, use a metronome. You must straighten your knee fully at each step up.

If you get too exhausted to carry on, note down the time that you stopped: it will make a difference to your eventual score. The test is quite strenuous, so be cautious. If you experience any problems, such as tightness in the chest, breathing difficulties or chest pain, then stop immediately.

As soon as you have finished, sit quietly and take your pulse for a full 30 seconds, starting exactly one minute after you finish. Write down the number of beats immediately, then repeat the 30-second pulse count and writing twice more, starting two minutes after you stopped the exercise, and then again a minute later.

You will find your pulse easiest just above the wrist on the thumb side of the inside of the forearm, between the first tendon and the bone. Use your index and middle fingers to time it.

You can then calculate your 'recovery index'. This is the duration of the exercise in seconds multiplied by 100 divided by double the sum of the three pulse counts.

Take these two examples. Mr A stopped the exercise after three minutes 40 seconds (220 seconds), and his respective pulse rates were 76, 64 and 60. This gives a score of 22,000 divided by 400, or 55. Miss B completed the four minutes, and her pulse readings were 66, 57 and 53. She had a score of 68 (24,000 divided by 352).

Mr A was decidedly unfit: Miss B could be considered to be fairly fit, but needing to do better. Try the exercise yourself: if your score is 60 or less, you need to be much fitter. You can be described as only 'fair' if you score between 61 and 70, 'good' between 71 and 80, and 'very good' between 81 and 90. If you score 91 or more you are probably already an athlete in training.


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  • fucsia profile image

    fucsia 6 years ago

    very useful! Thanks for sharing!