How Old is Your Body?
That number turned out to be identical to Grotenhuis' chronological age. But with a tailored exercise and nutrition program, she was told she could shed up to a dozen years. "It awakened something in me, seeing that number," said Grotenhuis, who now jokes about her ever-changing birthday. "I saw that I could accomplish something."
In an age when turning back the clock has become the new holy grail, fitness centers have turned to the promise of feeling younger, and living longer, to improve their bottom line.
Polar markets BodyAge assessments to fitness clubs as a way to help sell memberships and training sessions. Since 2002, Life Time has offered them free to all members, along with followups to chart progress. Other health clubs, such as Gold's Gym, have also begun to offer the test.
In October, Bally Total Fitness partnered with RealAge, an online health website that calculates physiological age based on a questionnaire. At Bally's, members can take an abbreviated version of the online test, answering 12 questions about genetics, health status and habits, and then go through a fitness evaluation. Personal trainers are ready to step right in and help take years off the number.
Data Not Set in Stone
"The number that you're getting is only as reliable as the data you're using to generate the number," said Debbie Rose, co-director of the Center for Successful Aging at Cal State-Fullerton. "I'd like to see where they're coming up with those algorithms. But I do think it's a really nice attempt to provide baseline information in a meaningful way."
Ron McPhee says that was the idea when he began developing the software for the BodyAge program a decade ago. For the average person, the various components used to measure fitness, such as Vo2 Max and body fat percentage, didn't mean much. So he tried to break down the factors in a more understandable way.
A team of exercise physiologists and physicians used data from the American College of Sports Medicine and elsewhere to develop a complex formula that measured fitness components. They weighted them appropriately, and then compared them with others to come up with a person's "BodyAge."How old am I? That's one of those things we found people understand and identify with," said McPhee, president of Polar's Health First division, which produces the BodyAge system. "We're trying to help people become more fit. It becomes motivational for them to see what's obtainable."
The focus of the test is becoming more fit and healthy, not looking better, said McPhee, "but that's a great side effect."
RealAge is Another Option
Dr. Michael Roizen, an internist and anesthesiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says he thought up the concept "quite by accident" 20 years ago, after he told a patient that although he was 49 years old, in reality he was eight years older because of his pack-a-day smoking habit. If he stopped smoking, Roizen told his patient, he would need only two months to get a year younger, and only nine months to lose another year.
To Roizen's surprise, the man stopped smoking.
"Age is the currency of health," said Roizen (chronological age 60, "RealAge" 42). "It is a great motivational tool."
Grotenhuis can attest to that. She is in a half-serious race to get her "BodyAge" lower than that of her husband, Kurt, who is chronologically 12 years younger than she is.
After adding power walking workouts, stretching and weightlifting to her regimen, she has dropped from a size 12 to an 8. She says she feels more confident, looks better in her clothes and "absolutely" feels younger.
Terry McMenomy, a stay-at-home dad from Shorewood, took the BodyAge test for the first time recently "to see how out of shape I am," and learned he clocked in at 32, which is two years younger than his actual age. By improving his flexibility, he was told he could drop two years. Improving strength, cardio and body composition could slash another seven years.
"The thought of this test made me a little bit nervous; you kind of don't want to know where you're at," he said. "I don't feel like worrying about how I look, whether my butt is perfectly formed. But you know what? I'm glad I did it. It's nice to know where you are, even if you don't want to know. I can come back in another couple months and do it again and say, 'Not too bad!' "
Rose said that wellness and health go beyond the physical dimension, also encompassing social connections and stress. Even so, she added, "physical activity is an important component of aging well."
While it's possible to reverse some signs of aging -- declines of strength, bone density and muscle mass, for example -- even Roizen and McPhee acknowledge that the clock can only be turned back so far.
"You can't go all the way back to 18," Roizen said, "but you can go quite a ways back."
Pam Schmid -- 612-673-4565 -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright (c) 2006, Star Tribune, Minneapolis
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