An Investigation of Individual Fitness Level through the Deliberate Increasing of the Pulse Rate using an Adaptation of the Harvard Step Test.
The body responds to exercise by increasing its output in order to enable the individual to function at this increased rate. This physiological reaction to exercise can be measured through the pulse, which increases during exercise, returning to normal afterwards. How quickly this recovery occurs is dependent on the level of individual fitness. A low level of individual fitness results in a higher increase in pulse rate and therefore a longer period of time to return to normal, than for an individual with a high level of fitness. Exercise for this individual elevates the pulse rate to a lesser extent, causing a quicker return to their normal rate.
The aim therefore of this investigation was the estimating of fitness levels through the deliberate increasing of the pulse rate, using a basic adaptation of the Harvard Step Test.
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Having an awareness of the physiological response of the cardiovascular system to exercise, there was the recognition of a physiological negative correlation or relationship between the two measures, in that the higher the level of individual fitness, the shorter the recovery period of the individual after exercise.
For the purposes of this investigation, the recovery period was classified by the recording of the time interval required, for the pulse rate of the individual to return to its normal measured resting rate after exercise. This allowed the assumption that the shorter the recovery period, the higher the level of individual fitness. Conversely, the longer the recovery period, the lower the level of individual fitness.
To further assess individual fitness levels, the individual pulse rate recorded immediately after exercise (PR), was divided by the measured resting rate of the pulse (RR) giving an exact pulse rate increase. This measure of increased rate of pulse also enabled a physiological
negative correlation to be ascertained, in that the higher the level of increased pulse rate, the lower the level of individual fitness.
Principles and Theory
The pulse rate is an indicator of the heartbeat. The elastic walls of the arteries stretch and recoil as blood is pumped through them, this action being felt at certain 'pulse points' throughout the body. This occurs where the artery is close to the surface of the skin and runs over a bone, giving a hard surface that 'reflects' the pulse beat, rather than it being absorbed by the soft tissue of the body. (1)
A large body of evidence has proved exercise as being influential in the reduction of stress hormones, and beneficial in the increase of 'feel good' hormones such as serotonin and adrenaline together with endorphins, which are recognised as being a factor in pain alleviation.(2) The benefits of even a small amount of exercise reducing the occurrence of heart disease have been well documented,(3) and studies have consistently evidenced the preventative measure of exercise on certain cancers. (4)
While various psychological and physiological factors influence the pulse rate, exercise is recognised as a prime factor in improving not only muscle strength and bone density, but also the strength of the cardio respiratory system. Even a small level of exercise increases the heart and lung capacity enabling a greater level of physiological endurance. (5) This explains why the pulse rate, which naturally increases during exercise, returns to a normal rate much more quickly in individuals who have a higher level of fitness.
The Harvard Step Test, which involves stepping up and down at a set rate and is used to officially estimate fitness levels, (6) was simplified for the purposes of the investigation, having adapted it to include two steps of different heights, 15cm and 25cm, which enabled an estimated measure of individual fitness level to be recorded.
Adaptation of the Harvard Step Test ensured that all individuals could participate, the exercise having been certified by Keele University Medical Officer as being within acceptable health and safety limits for individuals of reasonable health.
As the investigation required the deliberate increasing of the pulse rate through the use of the adapted Harvard Step Test, in line with the Medical Officers guidelines and to ensure two distinct measurements of recovery period could be taken, the exercises had to be carried out utilising the lower step (15cm) first, then after recovery, the higher step (25cm). This also ensured that the individuals' ability to carry out the exercises was increased slowly allowing, therefore, for all levels of individual fitness.
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
Recovery Period - time interval required for the pulse
rate (PR) to return to resting rate (RR)
Eg. RR Exercise PR Time RR
Estimated Fitness level - calculated by dividing the pulse rate after
exercise by the resting rate.
Eg. PR = increased rate of pulse (IPR - Increased Pulse Rate)
Step of 15cm height
Step of 25cm height
The health and safety measures inherent within this investigation necessitated investigators to work in pairs (Investigator A and B). This also enabled a comparison of measurements at the end point of the investigation.
In order to ensure an accurate reading of the resting rate of the pulse (RR), two measures were recorded, a self-measure initially, followed by a measure taken by another investigator, the resting pulse rate then recorded as an average of the two measures, the rates of both Investigator A. and B. being shown in Figure 1.
SELF - MEASURE
The metronome having been preset to sixty times per minute, the first exercise required Investigator A. to step up and down off the 15cm step to the pace of thirty times a minute for two minutes, therefore the beat of the metronome paced the step up and the step down, ensuring that both feet had stepped up onto the step side by side before stepping down, and that the body had remained vertical throughout the exercise. Investigator B. timed the exercise, remaining behind Investigator A. to ensure safety throughout. Immediately upon completion of the exercise task Investigator A. rested and remained so until the increased pulse rate (PR) had returned to the resting rate (RR). This was initially measured 30 seconds after completion, a repeated measure being taken at 30-second intervals, continuing until the RR was reached, the measures recorded and represented in Figure 2.
Investigator B. now completed the stepping exercise, as previously recorded, again using the 15cm step. On completion of the exercise
and having rested for 30 seconds, the PR was measured, repeating the measure at 30-second intervals until the RR of Investigator B. was reached. The recorded measures of Investigator B. are represented in Figure 2.
SUCCESSIVE PULSE RATE IN BPM
82 bpm 30 seconds
60 bpm 1 minute
70 bpm 1 minute 30 s
64 bpm 2 minutes
64 bpm 2 minutes 30 s
105 bpm 30 seconds
2 MINUTES 30 S
98 bpm 1 minute
92 bpm 1 minute 30 s
78 bpm 2 minutes
72bpm 2 minutes 30 s
The second part of the investigation followed the same stepping exercise, however this exercise necessitated the use of the 25cm step. Again, the use of the metronome determined the pace, however the increased height of the step purposed a faster pace ensuring a higher increase in pulse rate.
Following the set procedure from the first exercise, Investigator A. and then Investigator B. undertook the exercise following which, after an initial thirty second rest, measures of PR were taken with repeated measures of PR taken at 30-second intervals, until the individual investigators RR was reached. The recorded measures taken from both investigators, being represented in Figure 3.
These measurements enabled the recovery period from exercise 1 (15cm step) and exercise 2 (25cm step) to be established, for both
Investigator A. and B. The recovery periods of both investigators being represented in Figures 2 and 3 respectively.
SUCCESSIVE PULSE RATE IN BPM
102 bpm 30 seconds
96 bpm 1 minute
84 bpm 1 minute 30 s
72 bpm 2 minutes
72 bpm 2 minutes 30 s
121 bpm 30 seconds
112 bpm 1 minute
100 bpm 1 minute 30 s
92 bpm 2 minutes
79 bpm 2 minutes 30 s
72 bpm 3 minutes
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Examining the measurements of pulse rate taken at resting and for both exercises enabled the application of the second key equation to the measurements. Dividing the pulse rate (PR) by the resting rate (RR) determined the increased rate of pulse for both exercises, allowing consideration of the individual level of fitness of Investigator A. and Investigator B. These results being represented in Figure 4.
INCREASED PULSE RATE (IPR)
PR/RR = IPR
2 MINUTES 30 S
Referring to figure 5, observing comparable results of the Harvard Step Test (15cm) for both investigators described the increase in pulse resting rate (RR) after exercise and clearly showed the length of recovery period for both investigators.
The results for Investigator A. showed a slight increase from RR of 81bpm to a measured pulse rate (PR) of 82bpm, 30 seconds (2) after completion of exercise with the PR dropping very quickly to 60bpm in the following 30 second interval. This PR then increased over the following 30 second interval (4) to 70bpm, dropping to a steady rate of 64bpm over the following two thirty second intervals. The results depicted on the graph representing a recovery period of 1 minute for Investigator A.
Investigator B. had a pulse resting rate (RR) of 74bpm, exercise creating a significant increase in pulse rate (PR) to 105bpm (2). The
measurement taken at the I minute interval (3) showed a decrease of PR to 98bpm, the PR continuing to decrease over the following 30 second interval to 92bpm (4). Measurements of PR recorded over the following 30 second interval showed a continual decrease in PR to 78bpm (5), however the RR of Investigator B was not reached until 2 minutes 30 seconds (6) showing a measurement of 72bpm, therefore the recovery period of Investigator B. for the Harvard Step Test (15cm) was 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Observing the results of the Harvard Step Test (25cm) undertaken by both investigators (Figure 6), described the considerable increase in pulse rate of both Investigator A. and B., again the graph offering comparable and clear results of the recovery periods.
The RR of Investigator A. increased to a measured PR of 102bpm in the first 30 second interval (2) but then steadily decreased over the following 30 second intervals to 96bpm (3) and 84bpm (4) before reaching the investigators RR in the following 30 second intervals (5 and 6), showing a measured PR of 72bpm. The recovery period for
Investigator A. in the Harvard Step Test (25cm), being recorded as 2 minutes.
The PR of Investigator B. increased considerably from the RR of 74bpm to 121bpm in the first 30 second interval (2), decreasing over the following 30 second intervals showing a measured 112bpm (3), 100bpm (4), 92bpm (5) and 79bpm (6) before reaching the investigators RR in the following 30 second interval (7) showing a measured 72bpm. Investigator B. having a recovery period of 3 minutes, after undertaking the Harvard Step Test (25cm).
The results described in Figures 7 and 8 represented the increase in pulse rate for both Investigator A. and B. having applied the equation
to the RR and PR for both Harvard Step Tests. (please refer to Figure 4, repeated here for ease of reference.)
INCREASED PULSE RATE (IPR)
PR/RR = IPR
2 MINUTES 30 S
The results denoted in Figure 7 for Investigator A. described the increase in pulse rate (IPR) for the Harvard Step Test (15cm) as being negligible, in that the IPR was 1.0, the recovery period being recorded as 1 minute. The results denoted for the Harvard Step Test (25cm) however, showed a slightly more significant increased pulse rate, the IPR being 1.3, the recovery period also increasing to 2 minutes for Investigator A. after having completed the test.
The results denoted for Investigator B. in Figure 8 described a significant increase in IPR for the Harvard Step Test (15cm) recording an IPR of 1.4, with the recovery period, as detailed in Figure 4, being measured at 2 minutes 30 seconds. The results for the Harvard Step Test (25cm) described a further significant increase of IPR 1.6, the recovery period for Investigator B. being a total of 3 minutes after having completed the exercise.
Discussion of Results/Evaluation
While it was health and safety factors that determined the carrying out of the investigation in pairs, this did allow an element of comparison. However, in evaluating the results, it was important to look at each investigator's recorded measures separately.
Investigator A. measured an average pulse resting rate (RR) of 81bpm, which increased during exercise to a pulse rate (PR) of 82bpm for the 15cm Harvard Step Test and 102bpm for the 25cm Harvard Step Test. The recovery period increased between the two tests recording a 1 minute recovery period for the 15cm Harvard Step Test increasing to 2 minutes for the 25cm Step Test. The increase in PR for the 15cm Step Test was negligible, being only 1 beat per minute above the investigators resting rate. The second reading of 60bpm had to be considered as an anomaly as the PR then increased in the subsequent reading to 70bpm, which did not equate with recognised principles. The fact that the PR then reduced further over the following time intervals to a resting rate of 64bpm indicated the possible error in the second recording. However, as the RR of Investigator A. had been measured as an average of 81bpm, taken from two measurements of 90bpm and 72bpm, the final resting rate being 64bpm having been twice measured to ensure reliability, raised the possibility of error. As recognised in the introduction, there can be many factors that influence pulse rate, and the conclusion of the investigators was that there could have been other mitigating factors present when the initial pulse readings were recorded.
Investigator B. measured an average pulse resting rate (RR) of 74bpm, taken from two readings of 66bpm and 82bpm, again a significant difference between the two readings.
On completion of the Harvard Step Test (15cm), the pulse rate (PR) of Investigator B. rose significantly to 105bpm, with a steady decrease over the following time interval, reaching a resting rate after 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The effect of the 25cm Harvard Step Test increased the RR of Investigator B. from 74bpm to a considerable 121bpm, the recovery period for this test being 3 minutes, with the PR recording a steady decrease over the intervening time interval.
As with the initial readings of the RR for Investigator A., the initial readings for Investigator B. also showed a discrepancy between the
two measures. Again though it was recognised that other factors could have influenced the initial reading of the RR of Investigator B. as the self measure was taken upon arrival in the laboratory, whereas the recorded measure was taken after a time interval of approximately 5 minutes, offering the assumption that the intervening time interval, in the case of Investigator B. increased the pulse resting rate, whereas in the case of Investigator A. the intervening time interval allowed a decrease of the pulse resting rate.
Factors proposed included the activity of each investigator prior to attending the investigation, or their own particular psychological state of mind at that particular point, both factors being recognised as influencing the pulse rate.
In comparing the results of both investigators, it was of extreme importance to recognise that many factors do indeed influence the pulse rate, and in this respect a genuine comparison was impossible. However, it was possible to firstly speculate on each investigators level of fitness dependant on the results offered, and further, to offer a general comparison between the two sets of results, rather than between the two investigators.
It was accepted that the increased pulse rate (IPR) would differ between the two activities, as the level of difficulty increased. This was shown by the results offered by Investigator A. in that there was a negligible increase of IPR 1.0 from the first step test (15cm) but a slightly more significant increase of 1.3 IPR from the second step test (25cm). The recovery periods also increased between the two tests, from 1 minute to 2 minutes. Both sets of figures denoted the physiological negative correlation proposed that the lower the IPR and the shorter the recovery period, the higher the level of fitness.
Investigator B. showed a slightly more significant increased pulse rate between the two activities, the PR increasing from a RR of 74bpm to a PR of 105 for the 15cm Harvard Step Test, with a PR reading of 121bpm after completion of the 25cm Harvard Step Test. The IPR of
the first exercise being 1.4, increasing to an IPR of 1.6, showing an increase of 0.2 between the two exercises. The length of recovery period between the two exercises was measured at 2 minutes 30 seconds for the 15cm Step Test, increasing to 3 minutes for the 25cm Step Test. Again, both sets of measures denoted the physiological negative correlation proposed that the lower the IPR and the shorter the recovery period, the higher the level of fitness, this measure of negative correlation decreasing the closer the two sets of results become, resulting in an inverse correlation should the results be recorded in an opposite manner.
While a genuine comparison could not be considered due to the low number of investigative results, it would appear initially from the results that Investigator A. had the higher level of fitness, however in evaluating the results further, comparison of IPR together with recovery period between the two tests for each investigator independently showed Investigator A. as having a longer time interval between recovery from each exercise than Investigator B. The recovery periods for Investigator A. are 1 minute and 2 minutes respectively, and the IPR of each exercise are 1.0 and 1.3. The difference between the two measures described a difference of 1 minute between recovery and an IPR difference of 0.3. However, analysing the results of Investigator B. showed a difference between the recovery periods of only 30 seconds, having a recovery period for the first Step Test of 2 minutes 30 seconds and a recovery period of 3 minutes for the second Step Test. The difference between the recorded IPR of Investigator B. is only a difference of 0.2, the first recorded IPR being 1.4 and the second being recorded as 1.6.
Therefore, although Investigator A. had lower recovery periods and lower IPR than Investigator B., it was Investigator B. who showed the quickest recovery between the two exercises.
This underlined the significance of the importance of comprehensive analysis of data and moreover, highlighted the physiological
differences between individuals. In that, while one individual exhibited a higher level of fitness over a short period of time denoted by a low IPR and shorter recovery rate, another individual exhibited a higher level of fitness over a longer period of time, showing a higher level of endurance, denoted by a quicker recovery rate and smaller difference in IPR between the two exercises.
Acknowledging the physiological response to exercise, the aim of the investigation was the estimating of individual fitness levels through the deliberate increasing of the pulse rate.
It was proposed that the resulting findings would describe a negative correlation between the two measures, in that the shorter the recovery period of the individual, the higher the level of fitness.
The results did indeed represent this negative correlation between fitness levels and recovery period, although it was recognised that the data collected could not be deemed to be statistically significant due to the very small data sample.
The resulting findings did however highlight the differences inherent within individuals regarding fitness levels, that while some individuals exhibited a higher level of fitness over the short term, others exhibited a higher level of endurance in fitness over a longer period of time.
This would suggest the importance of comprehensive analysis of data, as an initial analysis resulted in a too simplistic method of determining level of fitness.
This finding though offers significance in not only measuring fitness levels in a more comprehensive manner, having an awareness of physiological endurance, but also in structuring individual fitness programmes specific to the individual undertaking the exercise.
Additionally, as the findings of this investigation cannot be measured as statistically significant due to the small amount of collected data, repeating the investigation with a much larger subject base would
offer greater significance to the outlined findings. Not only in offering statistical significance in support of the aim of this investigation but moreover, the analysis of individual difference inherent in the endurance level of physiological fitness.