Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Women's Health Fitness Check

Cardiovascular Fitness Evaluation For Women
The 3-minute step test can provide important information concerning the exercise capacity of your heart and your cardiovascular fitness level. Your pulse rate during exercise is a useful guide to how much work your heart is doing. With this information you can make sure you are exercising with enough intensity to guarantee a good conditioning effect, while not pushing yourself too hard.

Before starting this test you must first answer all of the following questions:

Note: If the answer to any of the above questions is "yes", then check with your doctor before attempting the step test!

General Principles
Stop exercising immediately if you develop extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, or dizziness. You can determine your pulse rate during exercise by stopping and then measuring your pulse rate for 10 seconds. Multiply this number by 6 to obtain the number of beats per minute. To perform a complete assessment of your cardiovascular fitness, you must perform the step test for a full three minutes using the technique as described below.

How to perform the 3-minute step test:
  • Find something sturdy to use as a 12-inch high step. A small bench or a securely tied stack of newspapers or magazines can be used. Do not use a stairway.
  • Facing the step, first step up with one foot, and then the other. Next, step down with one foot, then the other. Each sequence of getting up and down from the bench (with both feet) counts as one step.
  • The pace is critical.... you must make 24 full steps each minute---that's 2 every 5 seconds for a full 3 minutes!
  • After the 3 minutes has elapsed, sit down and take your pulse approximately 5 seconds after completing the step test. Compare results with the standardized charts below.

Resting Heart Rate: determine your heart rate by measuring your pulse when you first awaken or after you have been resting for at least 10 minutes.

Normal Resting Heart Rates
Age RangeAverage Beats Per Min
1 month120-130
6 months120-130
1-2 years110-120
2-3 years100-110
4-5 years95-105
6-8 years90-100
10-12 years85-95
14 years75-85

Exercise Heart Rate
Measure your pulse rate during exercise to determine how much work your heart is doing (what level of intensity you are exercising at).

Target Heart Rate Levels
Exercise Intensity LevelTarget Heart Rate
Low Intensity50 to 60% max beats per min
Weight Loss Intensity50 to 70% max beats per min
Average Intensity60 to 70% max beats per min
High Intensity70 to 80% max beats per min

Target Heart Rate Age Chart
AgeExercise Intensity Level
Low Weight LossAverageHigh

Note: If you are taking high blood pressure or heart medications that affect your pulse rate, check with your physician to determine the appropriate target heart rate for you.

During exercise your heart should be working hard enough to assure a good training effect, but not so hard as to be unsafe. During exercise you should attempt to keep your heart rate inside the ranges depicted on the target heart rate for exercise chart shown above. These values do not apply to those who are taking beta-blockers, which slow the heart rate, or those who have an artificial pacemaker.

Interpreting Pulse Rate Results of 3 Minute Step Test for Females
Excellent< 80< 84< 88< 92< 95

For men see:

Be sure to discuss all results and any symptoms that may arise with your physician.

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