Five uncommon health measures that can help you live a long and independent life.

We have all been to the doctor’s office for a standard checkup. Doctors look at our blood pressure, heart rate, weight, respiration, and maybe blood oxygen levels before sitting down with us. Have you ever had a doctor measure your lean muscle mass, leg strength, grip strength, foot speed, or VO2 max? These different measures also give a picture of overall health so let’s take a look!

Lean Muscle Mass

Lean muscle mass is associated with a more active lifestyle and thus less risk of more common health conditions. Healthier people tend to be more active, thereby retaining more muscle mass.

Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes risk can be increased with a sedentary lifestyle, however, genetics may play a role. Regardless of your family history, exercising regularly great prevention!

This fantastic image helps to illustrate just how important activity is as we age.

This is a top-down view of your thigh.

The top image is a 40-year-old athlete. Notice the white dot in the middle of the leg, that’s the bone; the large dark area around it the muscle, and the white outer circle is the adipose fat.

The second image is a 74-year-old sedentary man. Notice that the bone is harder to identify, the muscle mass is far less, and there is a much larger circle of fat around the muscle.

Finally, a 70-year-old athlete on the bottom. Again, the bone is easily visible, muscle mass present, and very little fat shown. It’s quite similar to the top image.

Foot Speed

With quicker foot speed, your odds of falling decrease since your ability to react quickly to a balance disturbance will keep you upright. Gait speed (walking speed) is also thought to be a reliable predictor of longevity. Slower speeds may highlight fall risk and general deconditioning. This study offers more insight and limitations to current research.

VO2 Max

VO2 max refers to the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen. As a predictor of health, it can be a great indicator for a few major health concerns. One of the more common diseases is cardiovascular disease, which is a narrowing or blockage of the arteries. This can lead to a greater risk of heart attacks and other major health complications.

The researchers also found that the risk of diabetes and all-cause mortality were higher in groups with poor cardiovascular fitness. It certainly pays to take the stairs or do some hill walking during your workouts! You can read this study for more information.

Leg Strength

While this one may parallel lean muscle mass, lower leg strength specifically will benefit you most of all as you age. The simple reason is more muscle generally means that you are more active, and thus have less overall health issues. The ability to squat is key for independence through all stages of life. You squat to get out of bed in the morning, sit on the toilet, or stand up from the dinner table – every day! Here’s a link to a supporting study.

If you do have a fall and need a hospital stay, your recovery is traditionally more swift resulting in fewer nights at the hospital or outpatient facility. This is important since illness and infection are common in hospitals, especially with longer stays and exposure to the hospital environment.

Grip Strength

Seem like an odd choice? A massive study shows that grip strength is a reliable predictor of longevity and overall health. For the same reasons we’ve covered above: more strength generally means a more active lifestyle. If grip strength is strong, you are more likely to be independent longer and have less risk of all-cause mortality. Are you seeing a theme with active lifestyles and longevity?


While blood pressure and heart rate are important, these complementary measures can help give a more complete picture of health and wellness. These may not seem as obvious as blood pressure or heart rate, but these measures nonetheless tell a story of health and wellness. We all want to live happy lives without health complications, but what can we do set ourselves up for success? Exercise! Reach out to a personal trainer (like me!) today to get started on your healthier lifestyle!

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