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What Are the Most Common Vital Signs

Vital sign measurement can help determine baseline fitness

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Updated July 22, 2011

Vital signs are measurements of the body's most basic functions. The most common vital signs routinely monitored by medical professionals and fitness experts include the following:
  1. Standing Height
    Height is measured while standing tall with shoes off. It is generally used to determine if children are growing adequately and to determine if older individuals are developing bone loss, often related to osteoporosis.
  2. Body Weight
    Body weight in pounds or kilos is a simple measure that tells you your total body weight. This measurement is not necessarily helpful in determining your body composition or body fat or your fitness levels. Weight and height together can be used to determine a person's body mass index (BMI). While there are some limitations to the BMI measurement, it provides a good estimate of health risk that may be related to being overweight. The best use of the scale is to track body weight over time. It is also helpful to determine your level of dehydration after a particularly tough or long training session. Just keep in mind that the scale doesn't distinguish between lean mass (muscle and bone) and fat.
  3. Resting Heart Rate
    Resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times a person's heart beats per minute while at rest. The best time to measure your resting heart rate is in the morning, after a good night's sleep, and before you get out of bed.

    For most people, the heart beats about 60 to 80 times a minute at rest. RHR tends to increase with age. It also tends to be lower in physically fit people, because endurance training makes the heart stronger so it can pump more blood through the body with each contraction. The heart rate changes based upon the body's need for oxygen, most notably, during exercise.

    • Average resting heart rate = 72 bpm
    • Normal resting heart rate = 50 to 100 bpm
    • Physically fit resting heart rate = 50 to 65 bpm
    • Elite athlete resting heart rate = 40 to 50 bpm
  4. Resting Blood Pressure
    Blood moves through the body in small surges each time the heart beats. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls as it circulates through the body.

    The heart is a pump, and when it beats, it pushes blood in to the arteries. This pumping action results in the highest pressure on the artery walls. This is the systolic blood pressure, and it is recorded as the top number in a blood pressure reading. Between heart beats, the pressure on the artery walls decreases to its lowest point. This is the diastolic blood pressure, and it is recorded as the bottom number in a blood pressure reading.

    High blood pressure readings often warn of increased cardiovascular disease risk. Optimal blood pressure is approximately 120/80 mm Hg. For those with a blood pressure of 140/90 or higher on at least two separate blood pressure measurements over time, your doctor may recommend treatment with exercise, lifestyle changes or medications.

    • Low Risk = 120/80 mm Hg or lower
    • Moderate Risk = between 120/80 and 140/90
    • Increased Risk = 140/90 or greater on more than one test
  5. Body Temperature
    Normal body temperature varies quite a bit from person to person and depends upon gender, recent activity, food and fluid consumption, time of day and hormones. Normal body temperature, according to the American Medical Association, can range from 97.8 degrees (36.5° Celsius) to 99 degrees (37.2° C). Body temperature may be high due to fever or low due to hypothermia.

Sources:

MedlinePlus, Vital Signs, 1/18/2007

The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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