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What should a healthy and fit human body be able to do?
December 16, 2004 9:18 AM   Subscribe

What should a healthy and fit human body be able to do? [+]

This question is inspired by this thread and the experience I had the other day of running 3 blocks to catch a train... and spending 3 minutes catching my breath afterwards.

How far should a human be able to run comfortably? Swim? How much weight should each gender be able to reasonably carry, and for what distance? What about flexibility -- should humans be limber enough to climb trees? I'm not so interested in longevity or cardiovascular health as I am in the idea that our bodies evolved to be able to do certain activities. I imagine I'd feel healthier if I restored and then kept up with those abilities.

People who feel fit and healthy: what are you able to do physically?
posted by departure lounge to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Only a few years ago, I could run farther than my age - in miles. Now I am training to run farther than my age - in km.

I can benchpress my weight.

I can stand and touch the ground with the palm of my hands without bending my knees.

This year I'll have climbed over 200K ft in altitude by hiking and stairmaster'ing.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2004


I just ate three donuts in five minutes.
posted by xmutex at 9:32 AM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]


Check out the percentiles for the Presidential Fitness Challenge (big pdf). It includes things like stretching, push-ups, and one-mile run. It only goes up to 17-years old, but it will give you a good idea of where you stand.
posted by driveler at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2004


Back when Jimmy Carter was president of the US, we used to have to do the President's Challenge for gym class which has a baseline set of things you should be able to do, fitness-wise. The deal was that we were basically "in training" to get fit focusing on the tasks in these challenges and the goal was to have everyone in class be able to do most of them. It was a pretty supportive and positive environment but at the same time it pushed you to see what you could do, or at least realize you were "underperforming" for your age group if you couldn't do something. My achilles heel was the flexed arm hang which was what the girls had to do instead of pull-ups. I think the minimum stadard was three or four seconds and I got about one...

Anyhow, here's the website for the program now, and it does have some normative data but it's geared towards kids and then goes to 17+ Shape Up America claims to have some fitness assessments, but since they also have a lot of food industry sponsors, I'm not totally sure I trust them and haven't gotten a login.

I'm fit in a muscle/flexibility way, less so in a cardiovascular way. I've got mild asthma which makes heavy breathing exercise a little onerous even with an inhaler. Swimming is great but I do it less than I should. For me, I want to be able to touch my toes, climb as many stairs or hills as I need to, run for a bus if I need to, walk for as long as I want [save for arch-support troubles], lift heavy objects enough to do stuff like move, and help other people move. I'd also like to be healthy enough to recover quickly if I overdo it, sleep well at night, generally avoid catching colds and flus, not be tired all the time and be able to keep up with friends and family in whatever they are doing. I meet most of these goals if I exercise even a little and eat well. It all goes to hell when my diet suffers, so that's where I focus the most energy.
posted by jessamyn at 9:40 AM on December 16, 2004


As long as you're patient and persistent, you can do a lot. I was one fat mofo* in high school. Now I do triathlons.

*Note: I mean this only as a figure of speech. I did not ever actually fo my mo, nor would I have any desire to do so.
posted by COBRA! at 9:42 AM on December 16, 2004


I can eat the hottest wings at Cluck U chicken.
posted by adampsyche at 9:46 AM on December 16, 2004


It only goes up to 17-years old, but it will give you a good idea of where you stand.

I don't think you realize how ancient some of us are. I, for example, am further from 17 than 17 is from 0, so it's not particularly helpful.
posted by rushmc at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2004


HA! Way to go xmutex....
posted by Pressed Rat at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2004


People who feel fit and healthy: what are you able to do physically?
posted by departure lounge at 9:19 AM PST on December 16


One reversal in Western culture is due to an over abundance of high caloric food, where once we worked to get fat, we must now work to stay trim. No one can be healthy in America without exercise. Or cocaine.

I think 100 pushups, 100 situps, the ability to touch your toes, and running at least 3 miles should be a median of fitness.

Also, running a mile in 5 flat may save your life or someone else's life one day.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2004


Since the original question, above the fold, was so general, I'm going to widen the thread a bit...

I've taught around a hundred people to juggle, generally in about half an hour, in some cases under 10 minutes, with only two abject failures. My feeling is that any normal human should be able, given enough practice (say 3 hrs/week for a year), to juggle five balls. Whereas my sense is that seven is not actually capable by everyone.

Once you learn to juggle at any serious level, your views of "what should a healthy and fit human body be able to do" change a great deal, from "I'd never be able to do that" to "that looks like it would take a lot of practice, but I'll have to start somewhere." At juggling conventions you find workshops on the damnedest things, e.g. singing overtones, just because you find people who are ready to seek the limits.
posted by Aknaton at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2004


I definitely think being able to run a 5K is healthy. That's where I'm trying to get back to right now. Every since I entered the damn corporate world a few years ago, I've been getting fat. :-(
posted by knave at 10:09 AM on December 16, 2004


I read that a fit man should be able to do 40 pushups, which is an indication of overall fitness.
posted by Quartermass at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2004


I think most people should be able to walk from sunrise to sunset. It just seems like the kind of thing we've evolved to do.
posted by coelecanth at 10:25 AM on December 16, 2004


Humans evolved to become natural runners.

By not running you deny your existence :)
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:39 AM on December 16, 2004


we've evolved to be flexible. our bodies work efficiently by adapting. if you start to run, you'll soon run better. that way, people that need to run can do so without those that don't paying the price.

so there's no "static" answer to what you can do "by default" - any (useful) answer is going to be about how quickly you can adapt. there's probably a fairly general answer for "how long does it take to train to run a marathon, if you were previously a non-runner", but not for "how far can a person run"?
posted by andrew cooke at 10:44 AM on December 16, 2004


I have never been able to do even one pushup. I always wondered if that was freakish. Thanks to Quartermass, now I know.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:03 AM on December 16, 2004


I think 100 pushups, 100 situps, the ability to touch your toes, and running at least 3 miles should be a median of fitness.

And to think I used to consider myself in pretty good shape..

I can probably do 25 pushups, 50 situps, and would struggle to run a single mile. And I'm definitely in better shape than most.

So, for my comfort, I will change your "a median" to "an ideal". :)
posted by eas98 at 11:29 AM on December 16, 2004


a mile in 5 flat?

I'm a runner and triathlete -- and 5 minute miles are really fast. I think you can be very fit without ever approaching that time.
posted by Miko at 12:04 PM on December 16, 2004


a mile in 5 flat?

I'm a runner and triathlete -- and 5 minute miles are really fast. I think you can be very fit without ever approaching that time.

Speed is nice. Speed is a value and a measure of fitness. But endurance is also a value and a measure of fitness, and might even be healthier overall. I'm as glad that I can run for an hour and a half as I am about any per-mile time I could manage to turn in (usually not below 8:00).
posted by Miko at 12:07 PM on December 16, 2004


I think 100 pushups, 100 situps, the ability to touch your toes, and running at least 3 miles should be a median of fitness.

I should be in this kind of shape easily. But my knees wouldn't tolerate 3 miles a day of running. Wish they would.
posted by scarabic at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2004


just wanted to add that pushups and situps can be good indicators of fitness, i agree.
however, body types do differ greatly and thus the exact number of each of these you can do is pretty arbitrary. People are different heights and widths. So anything based on lifting your own weight is gonna vary greatly.
posted by alkupe at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2004


Keep in mind also that pushups and pullups are wayyyy more difficult for most women than for men. Our upper bodies are just made differently -- you may have noticed that already.

I can do about 10 pushups if you don't make me go all the way to the floor, maybe one pullup and easily 50+ situps. I can walk and bike all day but cannot run more than a quarter mile at best. I don't agree that all humans are natural runners, because I'm sure not.
posted by naomi at 12:29 PM on December 16, 2004


Since no one's really chimed in on the swimming aspect yet, I'll bite. When I went through beach lifeguard training several years ago, we had to pass a battery of tests to determine our competence in the water. They included-

-Swimming 500 yds in under 7 minutes
-Swimming at least 3 miles in one stretch (no time limit)
-Towing a 22-foot RIB (using a rope tied around your chest) at least 200yds
-Treading water unassisted for 3 hours
-Paddling a 12' longboard 500 yds in 5 minutes
-Diving 20' down and retrieving a 20 lb weight from underwater

Anyone that can pass this test is undeniably fit when it comes to being in the water.
posted by saladin at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]


In an emergency situation involving a random set of 100 people, would you be an asset or a liability? Could you run for help? How far and fast? Carry someone to safety? What size could that person be? Help move heavy objects? Keep your wits? I intend to stay on the asset side for as long as I possibly can.
posted by rainbaby at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2004 [2 favorites]


The human body should be able to do what you want it to do—it shouldn't hinder whatever activities you undertake. Bodies and people are so different that any "objective" standard is doomed. (I always hated the Fitness Challenge for just that reason: of course other people could reach futher on that stupid box than I could—their legs made up a smaller proportion of their body, so they weren't really reaching as far.)

Off topic: Odd that water fitness and land fitness seem so unrelated. I can swim forever but can't run to save my life. (Of course that may have something to do with my loving water but considering running outside of a game as tantamount to torture.) Also, my upper arms are fine for swimming but no push-ups for me.

In an emergerncy situation I can telephone for help.
posted by dame at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2004


I think 100 pushups, 100 situps, the ability to touch your toes, and running at least 3 miles should be a median of fitness.

You are crazy. Look. I'm 5'8", I weight 134 lbs. I do not work out. I am able to walk as many miles as I need to. I can run if I have to but it is not fun and I can't sustain it for long. I struggle to do ten situps and as for pushups, forget it. But why would I want to do these things? As long as my body fat is low and my nutritional intake consistent, why would I need to be "fit" (aside from aesthetic considerations)?
posted by Grod at 1:28 PM on December 16, 2004


Also, running a mile in 5 flat may save your life or someone else's life one day.

Sure, in a situation whose likelihood is practically infinitesimal, especially for someone who lives in a city.

The fraction of the US population that can run a mile in 5 minutes or less has got to be below 0.1%.
posted by mcguirk at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2004


I just ate three donuts in five minutes.
Yeah me too, but, did you smoke one cigarette before and one afterwards?
posted by sixdifferentways at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2004


In an emergency situation involving a random set of 100 people, would you be an asset or a liability?

I think that's a pretty good measure, actually. Of course, it could equally be used to assess psychological fitness!
posted by rushmc at 2:32 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]


Bad Aknaton, no contact info...
posted by rushmc at 2:33 PM on December 16, 2004


Damn.... I guess I better go do my 4 pushups then... I gots some work to do!
posted by spilon at 4:11 PM on December 16, 2004


I think 100 pushups, 100 situps, the ability to touch your toes, and running at least 3 miles should be a median of fitness.
I gotta say, running 3 miles is not difficult for me (at a roughly 20-22 minute pace), and 100 situps sounds very doable, but I can't even being to comprehend doing 100 pushups straight. I honestly believe my arms would snap off.
posted by kickingtheground at 4:34 PM on December 16, 2004


Different bodies have different strengths but anyone can get better at certain tasks given practice. Still, for some people, long distance running is natural, while for others it's tortuous, and likewise, push-ups and sit-ups can be just a matter of perserverence for some while for others it's much more painful. Personally, I find abdominal exercises much more relaxing and doable than aerobic exercises. I couldn't do 100 push ups in a row, but I could do 10 sets of 10 interspersed with sit-ups/leg lifts, or something like that, which is pretty good for my age/sex, but when it comes to running, I'm a 50 yard dash person, not a 5 mile person - I run out of breath too easily, but speed and strength are challenges I enjoy meeting (I'm working on endurance and have certainly improved over time, but still, there are inherent talents or capacities one starts with).

I do martial arts where we have group warm-ups, and find that the variation in terms of what is easier/harder is great even among a group that is largely quite fit.
posted by mdn at 4:52 PM on December 16, 2004


Check out the tables in the 5BX (for men) and XBX (for women) exercise programs developed by the Royal Canadian Airforce for its civilian workforce (your google-fu will show you the way). It lets you know what an average person of your age could do. For example, as a 30-year-old male I should be able to do the following in 12 minutes comfortably:

28 alternate-stretch toe touches
28 situps
41 prone head-leg raises
20 arched pushups
510 step stationary run

I should also be able to do a 1-mile run in 8.5 minutes and a 2-mile walk in 26 minutes.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:26 PM on December 16, 2004


why would I need to be "fit"

Uh, well for starters, it makes sex a lot more enjoyable.
posted by fourstar at 10:43 PM on December 16, 2004


I can walk and bike all day but cannot run more than a quarter mile at best.

yeah. running's hard. but i like to ride bikes, less impactful. i ride 30 miles a week back and forth to work, plus 2-5 afternoons a week i ride 10-20 miles off-road, on trails, when there's less snow on the ground. this time of the year, skiing mostly takes up my weekends; i ski, like, 300k vertical feet annually, mostly downhill.

when i ski up, on skins, i takes me about 45 min to travel up 2000 vertical feet in about 2 miles, from 9500' to 11500'. don't know if that's good or not, but i makes for a fine, fine morning.

I've taught around a hundred people to juggle

as a unicyclist, this seems the natural next-step for me... is it hard, juggling... looks hard.
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:33 AM on December 17, 2004


for rush: How to juggle.

Also...

And...

Both my kids juggle, the younger better than the elder, even *I* can juggle a bit, klutz that I am...

Good clean family fun. Unless of course you juggle in the mud.

nm, nm
posted by kamylyon at 8:21 AM on December 17, 2004


I can already juggle. I just can't get past 3.
posted by rushmc at 9:09 AM on December 17, 2004


:::intently studies the 4-ball juggling animation on kamylyon's second link:::
posted by rushmc at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2004


rush: basic 4-ball technique isn't too difficult as it simply involves juggling two balls separately with each hand (not as hard as it sounds as the throws/catches are offset). Definitely looks impressive tho. I found I was able to do 4 fairly quickly by practising juggling two balls with my non-dominant hand for a bit. My new resolution for 2005 is to juggle 5 ... and buy a set of clubs (what a rush!). Thanks for the links (and the kick to go to the next level)!
posted by RibaldOne at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2004


Fun to be had... juggling with a partner.

Nephews in Iowa have been known to set cornfields aflame juggling clubs-o-fire...

*bookmarks the juggling sites and begins practicing again*
posted by kamylyon at 12:24 PM on December 17, 2004


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