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Personalized Fitness Advice at a Bargain Price

BU-subsidized test steers employees to better diet, exercise

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Athletic Enhancement Center strength and conditioning coach Mike Lagomarsine helps the author avoid cardiac arrest during a treadmill test. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Only readers of a certain vintage will recall the opening credits for The Six Million Dollar Man, with Lee Majors’ bionic body pushing 60 mph on a treadmill. At age 52, my own body has been devalued to perhaps $6.50, but I thought of Lee for inspiration for my first-ever treadmill tryout, courtesy of an employee benefit offered by the University.

An email last winter alerted staff to the fitness testing offered at the Ryan Center for Sports Medicine. For $50, full-time faculty and staff can take a battery of tests that would cost about $600 at most doctors’ offices, and no, would not ordinarily be covered by insurance, according to Boston Medical center physician Shawn Ferullo (CAS’97, MED’01), who oversaw the treadmill test. The tests come in three rounds: first, you get blood drawn and fill out a detailed questionnaire about your health and habits, including a three-day dietary diary detailing meals and snacks. That’s followed a week later by an hour-long fitness test, which is followed the next week by an hour-long consultation, where you get the results along with dieting and exercise recommendations.

What you end up with is a detailed, customized health profile, full of useful (and interesting) numbers. (On the plus side, my percentage of body fat puts me above the 90th percentile for men my age, and my weight is fine. On the ego-deflating side, my grip strength, compared with the average, rates somewhere between hummingbird and squirrel.) The good news is, the humiliation comes with expert input for exercise and diet. If you’re fit, the testers can fine-tune your efforts for better health effects. If you’re not, they can get you on the road toward fitness. All at more than 90 percent off the regular sticker price.

“You might not be able to change everything all at once,” registered dietician Lisa Ferreira counseled as she showed me general guidelines for healthy eating. “So just pick a couple of small goals that are meaningful and reasonable.”

Mike Lagomarsine, strength and conditioning coach at BU’s Athletic Enhancement Center, who put me on the treadmill and gave me the results a week later, sets the same initial, achievable fitness goals for those who haven’t been exercising regularly. And while you don’t get a merit badge, I came away with badges of another sort.

“They look like Mickey Mouse ears,” my wife said of the two hairless silver dollar–sized circles on my chest. Lagomarsine had shaved these beachheads to affix electrodes for the EKG done while I was on the treadmill. The treadmill was the final step of my first-thing-in-the-morning test, following some simple strength and flexibility exercises—squeezing a hand grip, holding a stick behind my back and reaching for it with my other hand, maintaining for one minute a side plank (stretching out on the floor sideways, propped up on one elbow), along with the standard height, weight, and blood pressure measurements.

The treadmill is easily the most strenuous part of the test. It increases both in speed and angle of uphill incline by a set amount over time, said Ferullo, a School of Medicine assistant professor, and “the majority of people will last anywhere from 9 to 15 minutes based on their fitness level.” I managed 14.

The test is not supposed “to crush people, but to have people exercise just below the maximum level,” he said. I wasn’t crushed, but I didn’t exactly feel like a champion, even though Ferullo pronounced my EKG fine.

A week later, I was back at the Ryan Center to get my results, first from Ferreira. Generally, she said, my eating habits are healthy and my weight is fine. I told her that I try to avoid sweets and substitute things like cheese for dessert.

Good, she said. Then she asked, “How much cheese do you have when you have cheese?” I could only answer sheepishly, “A lot.” My blood pressure was a little high, she explained, as was my LDL cholesterol (so-called bad cholesterol), though my HDL (good) cholesterol was “through the roof.” Ferreira recommended eating low-sodium, low-fat cheese and crackers (eminently doable) and cutting back on portions (um, I’ll get back to you on that one).

The bottom line, however, was heartening (no pun intended): I have only a 4 percent chance of cardiovascular disease in the next decade.

Next up was Lagomarsine’s evaluation of my exercise regimen. The treadmill test revealed that my maximum sustainable heart rate during exercise is 150 beats per minute. “Based upon your age and the numbers we have here, a realistic goal would be to maintain the level of fitness that you’re at,” Mike told me. I told him I didn’t use the heart rate monitor on the stationary bike I ride at the gym; he suggested I do so, and that I aim to hit my maximum rate and hold it for a minute every five minutes during my half-hour workouts.

I’m incorporating his suggestion, in hopes that my $50 investment inches me a little closer to the Six Million Dollar Man.

Employees interested in the test can call 617-358-3232.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

This story originally ran June 14, 2011.

6 Comments

6 Comments on Personalized Fitness Advice at a Bargain Price

  • Anonymous on 06.14.2011 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for this amusing article. I called for an appointment as soon as I read it! Perhaps there’s hope…..

  • Anonymous on 06.14.2011 at 9:24 am

    What about students?

    this would be a great offer for students as well. I know I personally would take advantage of such a test…

  • Anonymous on 06.14.2011 at 10:45 am

    Lookin' good!

    Fun, informative article. And great picture of Rich!
    I hope I look that at 52.

  • J Dough on 09.02.2011 at 1:00 pm

    University subsidize can help build a healthier, happier workforce. Go, human capital strategy. And, frankly, $50 is well worth it.

  • john on 09.13.2011 at 9:26 am

    A terrific benefit – but only for full-time staff & faculty.
    Those of us in the ever-growing corps of “adjunct faculty” get left behind…once again.
    Next spring, I “celebrate” 20 years as an adjunct faculty member. Once in a while the University should realize that collegial spirit should be something more than buzzwords in their official communciations.

  • Aaron L'Heureux on 09.13.2011 at 10:24 am

    Emphasis on the 8 in the phone number. 8-3232. Mine starts with a 3 and I’ve gotten a handful of these calls :)

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