Lace up your sneakers. Lack of exercise is linked to one out of every 10 deaths — and yet, 80 percent of Americans don't meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's basic guidelines for fitness.  

  • At least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly, 1.2 hours of vigorous-intensity activity weekly, or a combination of both
  • And at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening work like pushups, sit-ups or weightlifting
About 50 percent of Americans get the cardio portion in, but not the strength — which is especially important for bone health as you age — and 29 percent met only the muscle-work recommendations, according to CBS

I'm a regular, vigorous exerciser. I don't do it for the physical benefits but the mental ones. I go to barre class, ride my bike to do errands, take a 45-minute run-walk, or steal away for a couple-hour hike because I have tendencies towards anxiety and depression, and regular exercise works better than anything else to help me deal with them. It also helps me sleep. And it's great to know that my activity will help me live longer — so I get quantity and quality of life, bonus!

The President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test is similar to what you may have done in school growing up every year. This adult version will help you understand where you are now fitness-wise and what you might need to work on. It's a great benchmark because it assesses four key areas: strength, flexibility, aerobic fitness and body composition. If you start a new exercise commitment tomorrow, take this test today. Then, take it again in a month. You should notice a difference over time if you are doing an appropriate workout routine.

What the test entails

senior couple joggingThe aerobic test includes either a 400-meter walk (this is for people ages 60-90 who are already walking), a 1-mile walk, or a 1.5-mile run. The test advises against walking briskly or running unless you are doing so already. 

The strength and endurance section is simple; just do as many half sit-ups and push-ups as you can in a minute. There are very specific details about how to do the exercises and how to measure your results. 

The flexibility part is just a very basic sit-and-reach test.

Finally, in the body composition section, you fill in details about your weight, height and waist measurement. This last part is important because you may be like me. My BMI reads as "overweight" but that's at least partly due to my larger muscle volume. I'm both naturally muscular and I work out. Because muscle weighs more than fat, you can technically be overweight but not unhealthfully fat. You can also be of average or low weight and not be fit at all. So waist measurements are a good second metric to look at. Even though my BMI is higher than it "should" be, my waist measurement is way below what it should be, which is good — carrying fat around your middle is a precursor for a number of health issues. 

You enter all your data into the form, along with some basic personal details, and you get a report-card of sorts that tells you where you are in each percentile. 

I took the test, and except for my high BMI, I passed in all categories above the 90th percentile. So I would say that if you already work out, you probably won't learn much from taking the test. But it really hits all the areas that are important and is a useful tool if you haven't worked out in awhile and are wondering where you are when it comes to fitness. 

One of the stumbling blocks many people have with exercise is where to start. So, ask your doctor. He or she will know about your physical condition and limitations. Ask your doctor to write you a prescription for the best type or types of exercise for you, how often, and how long you should do it for. Having this discussion will lend your choice the gravitas of "doctor's orders" and also reassure you that you are choosing the right fitness path. While walking is a great place to start for most people, if your joints are an issue, your doctor might advise swimming instead, for example. 

Need some motivation once you have your details down? "Exercise is the magic pill," Michael R. Bracko, EdD, FACSM, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine's Consumer Information Committee told WebMD: "Exercise can literally cure diseases like some forms of heart disease. Exercise has been implicated in helping people prevent or recover from some forms of cancer. Exercise helps people with arthritis. Exercise helps people prevent and reverse depression."

So if you are healthy enough to do so, take the fitness test, assess where you are, ask your doctor for a solid plan, and as the famous slogan says, "Just Do It."

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running photo: /Shutterstock

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.