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Belly blubber is a time bomb. Women whose waist measures more than 35 inches have a 79 percent greater overall risk for dying from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, than those with a 28-inch or smaller waist. Place a tape measure around the widest part of your middle, usually right near your navel.
> 35 inches = Poor
32 to 35 inches = Fair
< 32 inches = Good
"Abs are mostly made in the kitchen," says Malissa Wood, MD, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Nosh on seven to nine servings of fruit and veggies and three servings of whole grains daily and two weekly servings of omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon. Aim to get 30 grams of fiber and at least 50 grams of lean protein a day. Work out, too, with an hour of cardio three or more days a week and strength training twice weekly.2. Resting heart rate
Your RHR is a good measurement of fitness: The lower it is, the better shape you're in. Before you get out of bed in the morning, use your index and middle finger to find your pulse on your inner wrist. Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply that number by six (this will give you your heart's beats per minute, or bpm).*
> 80 bpm = Fair (Questionable)
60 to 80 bpm = Good (Normal)
*Some superfit people have an RHR of under 60, which is great. But an RHR under 60 or above 80 could indicate dehydration or an underlying medical problem like thyroid disease or anemia. If your numbers fall into either category and you're relatively fit and well hydrated, see your doctor.
All cardio helps lower your RHR, but the best way to do that is through interval training, Dr. Wood says. Short bursts of high-intensity exercise increase your anaerobic threshold, which turns your heart into a more efficient muscle. Add 30- to 60-second speed intervals to a bike ride, an elliptical session, or a run once or twice a week.
"The faster your heart returns to its normal rate after exercise, the healthier it is," says Cheri Wiggins, MD, a physician in Twin Falls, Idaho. If your ticker's rate doesn't drop at least 12 beats within a minute post-exercise, you're at a higher risk for cardiac disease and even death. Figure out your target heart rate with this equation:
(220 - age) × 0.6 = low end of target heart rate
(220 - age) × 0.8 = high end of target heart rate
Example: a 39-year-old woman (220 - 39) × 0.6 = 109 for low end (220 - 39) × 0.8 = 145 for high end
Now, work out -- run or cycle -- until you hit that zone. (To measure it, use a heart rate monitor.) Stop and immediately take your pulse. One minute after you stop exercising, take your pulse again. Subtract the second number from the first.
< 12 = Poor
> 12 = Good
If your number is less than 12, your goal is to get at least 150 minutes weekly -- or five 30-minute sessions -- of steady aerobic exercise, like power walking. Nothing too intense: On a scale of 1 (easy for you) to 10 (extremely hard), shoot for a 4 or 5. See your doctor for a checkup before you get started if you're not used to exercise. As you gain cardiovascular fitness and your heart rate recovery number gets higher, bump up your workout length and intensity.4. Earlobe creases
These creases form during your adult years and are linked to coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. "Heart disease doesn't cause earlobe creases, nor do the creases cause heart disease, but they seem to be a marker for an unhealthy lifestyle," says Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist at Legacy Heart Center in Plano, Texas, and the author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart. One study found a correlation of as great as 80 percent between diagonal ear creases in people under age 40 and coronary artery disease. To check for creases, look for a line running at an angle from the bottom of your ear opening toward the edge of your lobe.
Crease = Poor (Higher Risk)
No Crease = Good (Lower Risk)
"Although you can't make creases disappear, you can minimize your risk factors for heart disease," Dr. Wood says. Know your family history; keep your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol within a healthy range; exercise regularly; eat healthfully; and do whatever you can to reduce stress. Learn more and check your heart disease risk at goredforwomen.org.
Twenty-seven million people in the United States over age 25 suffer from osteoarthritis, a condition that happens when the cartilage in your joints deteriorates and moving the joint is painful, according to the National Institutes of Health. To help gauge your risk, hold up one hand and take a look. If your index finger is shorter than your ring finger, you may be nearly twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis, according to a study in Arthritis & Rheumatism. The finger-length discrepancy points to lower-than-average levels of estrogen, which may be a cause of the condition.
Index finger shorter than ring finger = Poor (Higher Risk)
Index finger equal to or longer than ring finger = Good (Lower Risk)
Help prevent osteoarthritis by regularly doing a variety of exercises and maintaining a healthy weight, which puts less strain on joints, says Michele Olson, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and a professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery.
Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, among other health hazards. Use the Stanford Sleepiness Scale below to evaluate how you feel throughout the day. Check at around 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., when people are usually most alert, as well as at several other points during the day, including right after breakfast and lunch and while you're driving.Degree of sleepiness rating
Usually > 3 = Poor
Usually < 3 = Good
Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep at the same time every night. Designate your bed for only sleep and sex -- no iPads, no eating, no television -- avoid caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m. and limit alcohol. If you're still feeling groggy during the day, consult your doctor; you may have sleep apnea.
How easily you can come up with words while writing or talking is a metric of how well you can recall and use information stored in your long-term memory, says Michael Scanlon, a neuroscientist and the chief scientific officer at Lumosity.com, a site that offers games to train your brain. To test your fluency, pick one of these three-letter word stems: fin-, win-, cap-, gro-. In 60 seconds, write down as many words as you can that begin with those letters. For example, if you choose fin-, options include financial, finish, final, finicky, and finch.
< 3 = Poor
3 to 9 = Fair
> 10 = Good
Practice as much as you want on paper or at lumosity.com/games/word-bubbles to help improve your performance.8. Mental acuity
This is a blanket term for attention, focus, planning, memory, and abstract thinking. When mental acuity declines significantly, it may be a sign of Alzheimer's disease or dementia. To put yours to the test, grab a pen and a timer and time yourself as you connect the dots in the game to the right in this way: number, letter, number, letter, tracing from 1 to A to 2 to B to 3 to C and so on.
> 120 seconds = Poor
75 to 120 seconds = Fair
< 75 seconds = Good
Playing brain or word games -- online, on your phone, or on paper -- may help increase your brain speed and flexibility. Scanlon recommends 15 to 20 minutes a day five to six days a week.
Your body perceives stress as a threat and goes into defend-and-protect mode. "Your immune cells can't focus on restoring and repairing your body, so a host of other physical conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, bladder problems, and severe PMS, can appear," says Stephanie McClellan, MD, a coauthor of The Ultimate Stress-Relief Plan for Women.
Select your answers:
Do you regularly have trouble falling asleep or wake up feeling unrefreshed? YES / NO
Have you found yourself recently being more critical of yourself or others? YES / NO
Has your skin recently developed eczema or started to look sallow, with dark circles under your eyes? YES / NO
Does your midsection feel more bloated than usual, or have you gained weight there? YES / NO
Has your hair changed texture or started falling out? YES / NO
> 2 YESES = Poor
1 or 0 YESES = Good
Try this speedy stress controller: Jump rope 100 times, do 20 push-ups, and finish with a quick round of 15 biceps curls, triceps dips, and shoulder presses with light weights. "It gets rid of pent-up energy and takes six minutes max," Dr. McClellan says.
Adults with this chronic metabolic disease are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or develop heart disease than those without.
Give yourself 1 point for items that apply to you.
Your age is 40 to 45. ___
Your ethnicity is any other than white/Caucasian. ___
You've had gestational diabetes. ___
You have a family history of diabetes. ___
You've been diagnosed with high blood pressure. ___
Your menstrual cycle is irregular. ___
You've had a baby that weighed more than nine pounds at birth. ___
You exercise three to five days a week but not more. ___
Your BMI is 25 to 29.9 (use the calculator at fitnessmagazine.com/bmi). ___
Give yourself 2 points for Items that apply to you.
You are older than 45. ___
Your BMI is 30 or higher. ___
You exercise fewer than three days a week. ___
Your Total Score ___
> 5 points = Poor
< 4 points = Good
Proper weight management is essential for lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week and fill your plate with healthy fare.
Tally your good (3 points), fair (2 points) and poor (1 point) ratings here to see where you rank.
POOR _______ × 1 = _________
FAIR ________ × 2 = _________
GOOD ______ × 3 = _________
OVERALL SCORE _________How Did You Do?
25 to 30
If health is wealth, you're loaded. Keep doing what you're doing.
19 to 24
Looking good! Work on your problem areas using our expert recommendations, then take the test again next month.
11 to 18
You've got room for improvement but you've already taken the first step. See your doctor about any concerns and use our Rx plans to help get yourself in fighting shape in no time.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2012.