KINGSTON — Love it or hate it, most people are familiar with their BMI (body mass index) score. Yet experts agree that BMI is lacking when it comes to providing an accurate overall picture of health and fitness.
The BMI is a simple mathematical calculation that essentially divides someone’s metric weight by their height and then multiplies that number by itself, to come up with a score categorizing an individual as being underweight, normal, overweight or obese.
Criticisms of the BMI scale have been around for ages, including the fact it does not differentiate between fat and muscle, which can lead to very fit people falling into the underweight or obese categories depending on how lean or muscular they are. Nor does it take into account where someone carries their weight; for instance, someone who carries weight around their midsection may be more prone to cardiovascular disease regardless of their BMI score.
“For the general public the BMI works fairly well as a guide,” said Lisa Vincent, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who also manages the Center for Health and Human Performance at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Health Sciences. “But it isn’t necessarily a good measure of health and fitness for everyone because it doesn’t tell us what is going on inside.”
At the Center for Health and Human Performance, which opened on the URI campus in September, Vincent and her team of graduate assistants often see members of the community who have been referred by a physical trainer or nutritionist for a specific test to measure their cardiovascular fitness level or their muscle fitness.
But you don’t have to be a high-performing athlete, or even particularly athletic, to get a sense of where you stand beyond your BMI. Many members of the community who are interested in their general fitness level have taken advantage of the center’s body composition and resting metabolic rate (calories burned by the body while at complete rest) testing.
“It really runs the gamut in terms of who we see,” said Vincent. “We see folks who are referred in, serious athletes who are training for a particular event as well as members of the general public who are considering starting a diet/exercise program (or have started one) and may be curious about their fitness level or their progress.”
Graduate assistant Sydney Reigle, who works in the center and sees people of all ages and fitness levels come in for testing, enjoys the interaction with members of the community as well as the opportunity to discuss test results and what they mean.
“It’s really an opportunity for me to put what I’ve learned into practice — including explaining some of the more scientific aspects of the tests adequately and accurately,” said Reigle.
Vincent agreed on the need to help fill the information gap when it comes to things like BMI and body fat percentage rates, their impact and what they mean for overall health.
“In Western culture, we tend to be very attached to our scales or what size we fit into. There is a perception that if you look good, you must be healthy, and that is not always the case,” said Vincent. “The nice thing is that we are able to provide testing at a significant discount compared to a commercial fitness center or medical testing facility, so it makes this type of testing and those explanations more accessible for those who are interested.”
The Center for Health and Human Performance is located at 25 Independence Way on the University of Rhode Island Kingston campus. Costs for the general public range from $30 for simple body-composition testing to about $100 for more advanced testing. Some tests may be combined at a discount.
Tests available through the center are:
- Resting Metabolic Rate: Requires a 12-hour fast and reflects the number of calories burned at rest. Results can help in designing a diet and exercise program.
- BOD POD GS: Measures body composition in terms of fat mass and fat-free mass. Results will include body fat percentage and health classification.
- InBody 770: Measures body fat, skeletal muscle mass, and total body water. Results include body fat percentage, hydration levels, and a specific analysis of arms, legs and trunk. Those with implanted devices should not use the InBody 770.
- VO2 Submax Test: VO2max is the best measure of cardiovascular fitness and measures the amount of oxygen that can be utilized during intense exercise. Similar to a stress test, it can be performed on a bike or treadmill. VO2max is then estimated based on the workload results.
- Biodex System 4 Pro: Measures muscle strength and function. Can gauge relative strength of upper and lower body or right and left side, which can be useful in rehabilitation by comparing the strength of an injured limb against a healthy one. In addition, can help guard against injury by testing for imbalances within muscle groups.
Advanced fitness testing available:
- VO2 Max Test: Measures the maximum amount of oxygen (VO2max) that can be used during intense physical exercise. More intense than the submax test, it is performed on a bike or treadmill until the participant reaches exhaustion or chooses to stop.
- Lactate Threshold Test: Measures the accumulation of blood lactate, which hinders the muscles’ ability to contract. Requires an intense workout during which the finger is pricked at regular intervals in order to test the level of lactate in the blood. Popular among competitive distance runners, results can be helpful in designing a competitive training regimen.
- Wingate Cycle Test: Measures anaerobic (without oxygen) power and capacity. Popular among hockey players and sprint sport athletes. Power and rate of fatigue are calculated. Can be used as part of a training regimen to increase aerobic and anaerobic performance.
For more information on testing or to book an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (401) 874-5454.