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The Use of Blood Labs and their Relevance to Health Club Clinical Exercise Programs

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Eric Durak, MScEric Durak, MSc

The use of blood labs within the health club profession is not a new concept. In the 1980s, as the interest in high levels of cholesterol was becoming more common, health clubs used the Cholestech machine to take a finger stick of blood, and in three minutes, obtain a total cholesterol value.

In the early 1990s, the concept of the home glucose monitor was developed for diabetes care. Now, a person with diabetes could use a finger stick blood sample to see their blood sugars at any time of the day. It was a revolution for the diabetes community and something that health clubs could use to see how blood sugar responded to both intense and chronic exercise programs. Athletes then began testing their blood sugars for triathlons, marathons and cycling programs.

Soon after blood glucose machines came on the market, blood lactate machines made their way to clinics and clubs. Again, athletes used the machines to see the response to exercise, and an entire category of performance assessment was born. Since that time, testing tools have been refined, and many of the blood diagnostic centers are working on research for the elusive "noninvasive" blood testing for any type of component.

So, why is blood testing so important for the health club sector? Isn't this the purview of doctors (and only doctors)? One may think, and we'll discuss State laws relating to interpretation of labs later in this article, but the use of many assessment tools has moved from "only doctors" to other health professionals over the decades, from blood pressure monitoring to oxygen saturation to heart rate variability to body composition and others once thought of to be only "interpreted by doctors" to being used in clinics, holistic clinics and health clubs around the world.

That said, if a person obtains a blood lab from a lab, the results of that test (take cholesterol) may need to be interpreted by a physician if they fall out of a normal range. Trainers, therapists and others may not under specific State laws make a diagnosis but may request that their training clients see a doctor if levels are abnormal.

Interpreting blood labs has gotten easier over the past few years as online programs allow for consumers to log on, fill out the test they want, make an appointment and get a blood draw. For companies such as Request-A-Test, onsite doctors will read labs and interpret any readings that fall out of the norm. Their jobs are then to contact the consumer and have them schedule a meeting with their primary care doctor.

So, where do health clubs come into this? As we know, the interest in clinical exercise has grown over the past decade, and over the past two years, the need for quality clinical exercise programs is stronger than ever. This is where online lab companies play such an important role. Let's look at a scenario.

A new member comes to a health club and wants to participate in a weight loss program with a small group of other attendees. This is a three-month program whereby lipid and cardiovascular bloods are part of the assessment. The trainers use the Healthy Stats outcomes software (Welld Health company, Charlottesville, VA) and blood labs are included. Trainers make a suggestion and choose specific lab profiles with the client. They log onto the Lab Corp online portal, put in their information, pay via credit card and select a location for their draw. Results are usually completed in three days.

The system is becoming seamless and easier for persons in health club programs to use technology to get labs done independently and use those labs to improve their overall health. Lab Corp, the nation's leading blood lab draw company has partnered with online Request-A-Test to host a selection of hundreds of tests. For the purposes of health clubs, tests may be reduced to cardiovascular (Total Cholesterol, HDL, LDL, VLDL, Triglycerides), fasting blood glucose and A1c (diabetes markers) and C-reactive protein (vascular inflammation). These tests give a pretty good indication of where the body is regarding weight loss, blood pressure measurement, dietary changes and weight loss. There are many other tests, such as immune markers, hormone panels and sports performance blood values.

One aspect of gaining knowledge of blood labs is the new CEU course called the Blood Lab Wellness Specialist. This course gives an overview of labs and details some of the issues that trainers and therapists may encounter when dealing in the blood lab space. The strength of using software such as Health Stats cannot be overlooked, as it simplifies the assessment process to include labs on a regular basis.

Future programs for clinical exercise will make use of blood labs as often as trainers use blood pressure cuffs today. It will add significant value to training sessions, as the aspects of health are now married with the fitness values of body composition, strength and endurance that are the hallmark of fitness training and progression.

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