Doctors’ lab tests spot health problems no fitness trainer can see

Beatrice J. Doty

During a standard fitness evaluation, a fitness professional evaluates five aspects of fitness: cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and body composition.

Once each aspect is scored against reference ranges, it’s easy to see where improvements need to be made. But there’s always more to the story.

I have conducted thousands of fitness evaluations. My clients have ranged from ultra-fit athletes to complete beginners, and everything in between. Evaluating someone’s conditioning is an eye-opening process that can provide valuable data from which to develop a comprehensive exercise prescription that maximizes strengths while addressing weaknesses.

But the fitness evaluation cannot replace a medical evaluation that includes lab work, and here’s why.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, representing about 25% of all deaths each year. Most people understand the risk factors for heart disease include hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), obesity, advanced age, physical inactivity, smoking and poor dietary habits. Outside of blood factors, a fitness evaluation can provide most of the other information relative to heart disease. So, I can get a good sense of an individual’s risk level.

But there are other lifestyle-related chronic conditions that would not appear in a fitness evaluation and that have few symptoms until the advanced stages. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined; the survivability rate is about 91% — if it’s identified in stage 1. Colorectal cancer screenings can be done one of two ways, an at-home test or colonoscopy. This chronic condition would not appear on a fitness evaluation or a blood test.

Chronic kidney disease is another condition that has few symptoms initially. In fact more than 90% of individuals who were diagnosed with chronic kidney disease were completely unaware until they had a specific blood test known as eGFR.

They could have performed well on a fitness evaluation and a typical lipid profile but would not know about their kidney disease — unless they specifically asked for the eGFR or their doctor ordered it.

So, this week’s message is to screen for heart disease, yes, but also for colorectal cancer and chronic kidney disease — especially for those over the age of 45. The risk continues to increase with each year that passes, and identifying the risk for colorectal cancer and chronic kidney disease requires specific testing not available in your local fitness center.

The good news is that living an active lifestyle decreases one’s risk for colorectal cancer and chronic kidney disease. And this week’s exercise can certainly help! The 4 Step Shoulder Raise is a fun way to add some variety to upper body strength training.


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1. Select a pair of light dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. With a dumbbell in each hand, flex the biceps to lift the dumbbells up until your elbows are at 90 degrees.

3. Perform a lateral shoulder raise while keeping the elbows bent.

4. Once the elbows are parallel with the shoulders, straighten out both arms so that your entire body forms a big “T.”

5. Reverse these four steps sequentially until you’re back at the starting position.

6. Perform two sets of 12 repetitions.

This is a great exercise to warm up with, assuming very light weights are used. It requires slow movements and involves large muscle groups, so this movement does a very good job of increasing blood flow to the upper body muscles. And of course, increasing blood flow is great for reducing chronic disease risk — so everyone wins. Enjoy!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column 20 years ago at Little Rock. He has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master’s in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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