Assess Your Body Composition
To determine your height-to-waist ratio,5 simply measure your height and your waist circumference with a measuring tape. Your waist circumference should be less than half of your height. As an example, if you’re six feet tall (72 inches), your waist circumference should ideally be less than 36 inches.
“Keeping your height-to-waist ratio to at least 2:1 can increase your life expectancy, according to former science director of the British Nutrition Foundation, Margaret Ashwell. If you don’t, you put yourself at risk for inflammation issues, diabetes, heart disease, or stroke,” Dan John writes.6
While this seems like a reasonable enough measuring tool, I still prefer using waist-to-hip ratio, as this will give you a better idea of the distribution of fat on your body. As stated earlier, the classic apple shape is indicative of carrying more harmful visceral fat, which is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Carrying more fat around your hips and buttocks, on the other hand, is associated with reduced health risks as this subcutaneous fat is not nearly as harmful as the fat around your internal organs.
That said, some body types may render this technique less than perfect as well. For example, women who are very thin and “straight” (i.e. don’t have an hourglass figure) may end up in a higher risk category than is warranted. In such cases, you may want to measure both your height-to-waist and your waist-to-hip ratio to get a better idea of your overall risk.
To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, get a tape measure and record your waist and hip circumference. Then divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For a more thorough demonstration, please review the video below.
The Abdominal Plank Test
If you can hold an abdominal plank position for at least two minutes, you’re off to a good start. If you cannot, you’re likely lacking in core strength, which is important for overall movement stability and strength. A strong core will also help prevent back pains. Being unable to hold a plank for two minutes may also indicate that you’re carrying too much weight, and would benefit from shedding a few pounds.
Planking will help build your deep inner core muscles that lay the groundwork for that six-pack look. Keep in mind, however, that in order to really get “six-pack” abs, you have to shed fat. Men need to get their body fat down to about six percent, and women around nine percent in order to achieve that classic six-pack. Here are two key points for performing a plank correctly:
While in plank position, pull in your bellybutton. Your bellybutton is attached to your transverse abdominis, that inner sheath that holds your gut inside and gives your spine and vertebrae a nice, weight belt-tightening type of support. So by pulling it in, you begin to contract that deep inner transverse abdominis muscle. If you want to work your six-pack rectus abdominis muscle, drive your chin down toward your toes while you’re focused on squeezing your bellybutton in.
Next, do a Kegel squeeze. More women than men might be familiar with this term. A Kegel squeeze is performed by drawing your lower pelvic muscles up and holding them up high and tight. For men who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s similar to trying to stop urinating in the middle of the flow. This squeeze will allow you to feel and focus on your abdominal muscles.
For a boost of inspiration, take a look at the following video featuring George Hood, the current Guinness World Record holder for longest-held abdominal plank. He nabbed the record by holding plank position for a staggering 1 hour, 20 minutes, and 7 seconds. The prior record for longest time in abdominal plank position was 50 minutes and 11 seconds by Richard Hazard.
The Sitting-Rising Test
Brazilian researchers have revealed a simple test that may help predict your longevity: how well you rise from a seated position on the floor. The sitting-rising test (SRT) involves a score of 0-5 for each movement (sitting and rising), with a combined 10 being the highest score, awarded for those who can sit and rise from the floor without any assistance from their hands or knees. While appearing simple, it actually gauges a number of important factors, including your muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and motor coordination, all of which are relevant to your functional capability and general fitness.
To perform the test, simply sit down on the floor, and then get up, using as little assistance from your hands, knees, or other body parts as possible. For each body part that you use for support, you’ll lose one point from the possible top score of 10. For instance, if you put one hand on the floor for support to sit down, then use a knee and a hand to help you get up, you’ll “lose” three points for a combined score of 7. Research7 shows the numbers strongly correlate with your risk of death within the next six years. For each unit increase in SRT score, participants gained a 21 percent improvement in survival. Specifically:
Those who scored 0-3 were 6.5 times more likely to die during the 6-year-long study than those who scored 8-10
Those who scored 3.5 to 5.5 were 3.8 times more likely to die
Those who scored 6 to 7.5 were 1.8 times more likely to die
While I wouldn’t take the results of this study as “gospel” and become distressed if you are 30 years old and score a 3, it does provide an interesting perspective on the connection between mobility and health and can provide encouragement for many to get back in shape. Even if you have been exercising like I have for coming up on five decades, it still can be a challenge. For a demonstration, see the following video