When evaluating our health or risk of mortality, we think about medical check-ups and classic analytics. We relax if all the values are within the range and we are alarmed if something goes wrong.
However, these frequent reviews are less helpful than they seem. A large Cochrane review evaluated the outcome in nearly 200,000 people for more than 20 years, noting that those who underwent annual check-ups did not get sick or die less.
As the researchers conclude: «This could indicate that general medical check-ups promote overdiagnosis to a greater extent than they detect relevant clinical abnormalities ». Something similar concludes this Harvard article.
The truly preventive medicine is not about becoming more analytical, but about improving your lifestyle.
It is good to know certain basic indicators, but health is much more than cholesterol level or body mass index. In fact, more and more studies indicate that to assess disease risk we should pay more attention to strength and movement.
The movement is he true integrator of the brain with the musculoskeletal system and the cardiorespiratory system. Analyzing the quality of this integration can give us much more information about the risk of getting sick than a blood sample.
Detailed below four example tests that you can do to evaluate your general health, without having to go to the doctor.
Test 1. Walking speed
A study of almost 35,000 older adults (over 65 years) concludes that slow walking is associated with higher short-term mortality.
They measured the time it took to travel a space of four meters, and the average life expectancy was reached in those who walked at 0.8-1 m / s. Each 0.1 m / s increase reduced mortality by almost 12%. If you are not good at math, 1 m / s equals 3.6 km / h.
It is not an isolated study, and we have many similar ones (study, study). This study of more than 50,000 people also found relationship between slow walkers and subsequent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
And it’s not just for older people. The speed at which you walk at 45 also predicts the health of your body and your brain (study, detail).
When I think about these studies, I walk a little faster.
Test 2. Sit up and get up off the floor (no hands)
This test is more complex than walking, but also offers more information. While standing, cross one leg behind the other and slowly lower yourself down to sit on the floor. Now do the opposite movement, pushing yourself back up to your feet.
If you have completed the move without any support, congratulations, your score is a 10, and your risk of dying soon is very low :). Subtract one point for each time you have to help yourself with one hand or elbow. And the same if you support one knee or the side of a leg. If you lose your balance, subtract an additional half point.
According to this study, high scores are associated with lower mortality in the following years.
The interesting thing about this test is that measure many things at once: strength, mobility, balance … Improving these capacities will reduce the risk of falls and accidents, in addition to being individually associated with better general health.
Test 3. Grip strength
A 2018 study of more than 500,000 subjects concluded that a simple grip strength test is a good predictor of future risk of coronary heart disease and cancer.
Another study confirms these conclusions in many countries and also in rural populations. Every 5 kg loss in grip strength is associated with a 16% increased risk of mortality.
And it is also useful in young people. A Swedish study, in more than one million subjects, measured grip strength in adolescents (16-19 years). For the next 24 years, the weakest suffered almost 50% more mortality (for whatever reason) than the strongest.
And the same is confirmed by many similar studies (study, study, study, study, study).
Something as simple as squeezing a dynamometer (like this one) or measuring your hanging time could give you more information than your cholesterol level.
Test 4. Push-ups
As we saw a long time ago, muscle makes you harder to kill, and push-ups they are a great exercise to assess your upper body musculature.
A recent study, in more than a thousand firefighters with an average age of 40 years, concluded that the number of push-ups they could perform predicted future risk of cardiovascular disease. During the ten years after the test, men who did more than 40 push-ups in a row suffered 96% fewer coronary problems than those who did not reach 10.
Even in risky professions like firefighters, many more die of coronary heart disease than putting out fires. And a simple push-up test to failure is a risk predictor, even better than traditional treadmill stress tests (detail).
Note: In women, the same idea would undoubtedly apply, although the number of push-ups to be performed would be less.
Traditional biomarkers have their utility, especially in people at high risk or after the disease has appeared. In healthy people, however, routine check-ups frequently generate false positives, leading to unnecessary treatment and high healthcare costs. We would have a healthier population if part of that money were invested in improving lifestyle habits.
On the other hand, we have much simpler indicators that will help us assess our risk of illness, without having to make an appointment with social security. Your strength and the quality of your movement give you a lot of information about the internal state of your body, and therefore on your risk.
Also, these tests force you to assume the responsibility. There are no pills to improve your strength or mobility, you have to work on it. Improving your results on these tests directly impacts what your body can do.
Keep getting medical checkups, but add your own physical evaluations. Take the tests today and try to improve your results one year from now.
PS: It is important to clarify that, as with the analytics, passing all the tests does not imply that you are free from suffering problems, or if you are unable to pass any of them, it does not imply that you will have them. But as much as possible, try to have the odds in your favor 🙂