Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and not only reduces your likelihood of developing certain diseases, but it improves your mental health and a general sense of wellbeing. Once you are exercising regularly, your body becomes accustomed to the exercise you are doing and needs to be further stimulated to reap the benefits of your exercise programme.
You will probably be aware when your exercise programme becomes easier and that is the time to push yourself further, but it is important to consider how to measure these improvements to see if you’ve achieved your fitness goals and enable you to set new goals for improvements in physical fitness.
Physiological improvements can be measured in several ways such as weight loss, improved sleeping patterns and reduction in medications, but the ability to improve your physical performance is what is going to sustain the improvements in your physical appearance as a result of exercising. So how can you measure whether all your hard work and sweat is paying a dividend?
Subjective measures such as the ease in which you can carry out activities compared to previously is an obvious measure and one in which you can achieve without much difficulty. Think about how difficult the activity is (at the same intensity/weight/time) now compared to 6 weeks ago. Also consider your recovery afterwards and how fatigued muscles are after the exercise; do your legs still ache after that 5k run you’ve been doing?
A more scientific measure changes in resting heart rate, which is often an indication of improved fitness levels, as the heart muscle becomes more efficient and effective every time it beats (meaning it has to beat less). For example, an average individual’s healthy heart beats approximately 70 beats per minute at rest. For an individual who has good fitness levels, their resting heart rate could be as low as 40 to 50 beats per minute or even less!
Recovery time (immediately after exercise) is also an indication of fitness levels. As your body becomes more used to the activity and your cardiovascular system develops, your heart will recover faster and return to its resting heart rate, or sometimes lower, as a result of exercising.
You can measure your resting and exercise heart rate by checking your pulse;
Apply your index and middle finger (not your thumb as it has a pulse of its own) to your pulse on your wrist. Count to 10 and multiply that number by six for your heart rate.
Other measures which can be carried out by health professionals include:
- Reductions in blood pressure often occur due to improvements in your cardiovascular system.
- Lung function tests will indicate if your respiratory system has improved as a result of aerobic exercise and can measure the efficiency and effectiveness of your lungs.