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Fitness Level Predicts Likelihood of Death

Death Risk Doubles for Women Under 85% Average Fitness for Age

Exercise Prescriptions

The women Gulati and colleagues studied had no obvious symptoms of heart disease. But like many U.S. women, they weren't exactly healthy. The study measured fitness in terms of METs -- metabolic equivalents -- which provide a measurement of the amount of oxygen a person can breathe at a given workload.

At rest, a person burns about 1 MET. A woman who jogs at 5 miles per hour for 30 minutes would burn about 8.7 METs, Gulati says. Some of the women in the study were able to tolerate exercise of only 1.2 to 1.4 METs.

Using the chart devised by Gulati and colleagues, an active 45-year-old woman would normally be fit enough to burn just under 11 METs.

"The important thing is how much you can push yourself," Gulati says. "We have a 30-minutes-of-exercise-a-day guideline -- but it is the intensity of the workout that counts. If your exercise feels too comfortable, it probably is. It does not push you to your fitness level."

So how can a woman or a man find out what she or he needs to be fit? Gulati recommends getting an "exercise prescription."

Get a Fitness Checkup

"I want people to know what their fitness level should be," Gulati says. "They can do this with the help of their doctors. Ask to have your fitness screened at your next visit. And ask for an exercise prescription."

What might such a prescription look like? Just as with any prescription, Douglas says, your doctor first has to be sure that exercise is right for you.

"The best program is whatever form of exercise you will do," Douglas says. "Ballroom dancing, walking, riding a bike, swimming -- it doesn't matter. You need to move."

Douglas warns that many people who think of themselves as active are getting much less exercise than they need. That's why she says pedometers are a great idea. The devices measure how many steps you really take in a day.

"Some of my patients say, 'I am active. I get out in the garden, I work around the house.' But the pedometer shows they do 3,000 or 5,000 steps -- not the recommended 10,000," Douglas says. "These people are up and out but not getting the exercise benefit they need. The good thing about the pedometer is it gives you credit for what you already do and lets you know how much more you have to do."

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