Healthy Baseline: Get a Baseline and Get Moving

Healthy Baseline: Get a Baseline and Get Moving by William Smith, MS, NSCA, CSCS, MEPD

Often clients will ask how much physical activity is recommended to maintain and improve health? My response is essentially the same. There are two key questions that need to be answered first:

#1 What is your current personal health status?

This includes information related to your last physical, blood work, family history. Modifiable risk factors such as smoking, body composition and high stress work environment should be reviewed as well.

#2 What is your current level of physical activity?

Basically, are you currently active and if so, what are you doing and how much? This is very important, as the elements of any exercise program should be structured relative to your current level of activity. For me, ten years ago I performed structured exercise in a gym setting every day. Now with new obligations including two young children, going for an 1-hour walk as a family may be the exercise for the day… i.e. incorporate the family into healthy living strategies.

In respect to bullet #1, there’s key personal health information that should be gathered, and is generally included in the assessment for a new client.

● Annual Physical Exam: Consult with your physician to check your medical parameters
● Biometric Pane/Blood Work: Cholesterol, triglycerides and blood Sugar
● Blood Pressure and Pulse Rate
● Family History: Parents, grandparents, for example, with heart attack, stroke, diabetes, etc.

Once you have a good idea where you stand following a personal health history review, looking at your physical activity is the next step. This step should begin with simple physical assessments… the old adage “you won’t know where you are unless you know where you’ve been” couldn’t be more true.

There are many ways to assess your current level of Physical Activity, specifically strength and cardiovascular fitness, respectively.

I’d take this discussion back a step first and focus on Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Questions you may want to ask yourself include: Do you have difficulty with walking up and down stairs? How about basic chores around the house such as yard work? Difficulties with simple, baseline daily activities give indication into broader deconditioning points that can be incorporated into your exercise program design, so pay attention.

A cardiovascular ‘field test’ called the Cooper Test can be very useful. Go to any local track and see how many laps you can complete in 12-minutes. Record the number of laps then go online for the formula to enter the number of laps.

The next steps are your standard strength tests. Pushups, wall sits, pull-ups and sit-ups or planks can be measured very easily. Search online for standard testing scores for these physical tests and you’ll find a number of resources to compare your test numbers.

Below are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) exercise recommendations. They are good reference points for recommended weekly activity.

Cardiorespiratory Exercise
● Adults: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
● Exercise recommendations: 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week)

Resistance Exercise
● Adults: train major muscle group two or three days each week
● Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power.
● For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance.

Functional Fitness Exercise
● “Functional fitness training” is recommended for two or three days per week.
● Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (tai chi and yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.
(Source: American College of Sports Medicine)

In closing, getting an updated personal health history and physical assessment data will provide peace of mind and sound data to measure progress. Try to set short-term and long-term goals for yourself. For example, a short term goal (8-12 weeks) is to increase physical activity from 3 times to 4 times/week for a total of 120 minutes. A longer term goal (6-12 months) can include lowering blood sugars to stay off or decrease daily medication. Get that “Healthy Baseline” and start moving!



WILLIAM SMITH, MS, NSCA, CSCS, MEPD, completed his B.S. in exercise science at Western Michigan University followed by a master’s degree in education and a post-graduate program at Rutgers University. In 1993, Will began coaching triathletes and working with athletes and post-rehab clientele. He was a Division I Collegiate Strength Coach and has been competing in triathlons and marathons since 1998, finishing 7 marathons and 1/2 Ironman. Will currently works for the #1 Ranked Hospital developing Employer-Based Health and Wellness Programs for Companies, specializing in installing On-Site Medical and Health Suites to assist in lowering employee healthcare costs. Will has advanced specialty certifications in cancer, post-rehab exercise and athletic development. Will has also co-authored the definitive guide to triathlon training, Tri Power. He is also the author of several books in the popular Exercises For series including Exercises for Heart Health, Exercises for Back Pain, Exercises for Brain Health, and many others.