Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Health / Safety

Preventing the broken-heart blues

June 21, 2010
By Paul Miller

I feel like I'm preparing for a space voyage. Ten electrodes are attached to my chest, and as I step onto a treadmill, my heartbeat springs to life on a monitor at the newly renovated Human Performance Clinical/Research Lab on campus. The sharp peaks and valleys scrolling across the screen are eerie - that's my heart doing that. It's all part of the lab's Heart Disease Prevention Program, and I'm impressed by the technology, but right now I'm distracted by those lines on the screen. It's like watching the tempo of my soul dance around outside my body.

Protect, maintain, and improve health

Paul Miller, editor of Colorado State Magazine, undergoes a treadmill stress test at the campus Human Performance Clinical/Research Lab.

I envision a prank: If the screen goes blank, I’ll fall down and pretend to be dead. I don’t want to jar anybody else’s heart, though, so I pay close attention to what Tiffany Lipsey is telling me. She’s assistant director of the lab, and she’s here to assess my fitness level and compile charts loaded with advice to prevent heart disease.

It’s a service that’s available to the public for a fee, which includes booklets given to participants that detail stress tests, blood work, body fat assessments, exercise and diet advice, and a lot more.

Tiffany bumps up the speed and angle of the treadmill. Gay Israel, head of the Department of Health and Exercise Science, stops in to observe, and Dr. Russell Risma, a local physician, keeps a close eye on the electrocardiogram while I’m striding along. Brady Andersen, a graduate student, takes my blood pressure every few minutes. I’ve rarely been surrounded by so many people focused on my health and welfare.

Wide population served

In fact, that special care summarizes the mission of the department and the dedication of every member of the esteemed crew. In a conversation before my test, Gay named all the professors in the department and described their research, which ranges from cardiovascular physiology to healthy aging and frailty prevention to obesity and Type II diabetes prevention.

“We’re committed to producing widely recognized research, outreach programs, and graduates who focus on helping people protect, maintain, and improve their health and quality of life throughout their lifespans,” Gay says. And to serve a wider population with tests like the one I’m undergoing, he and Tiffany are using grant funds from the Caring for Colorado Foundation to help 60 medically underserved adults in Larimer County through the Heart Disease Prevention Program. More than 250 medically underserved people have been helped since the program began in 2004.

See how you compare

A pulmonary function test is included in the Heart Disease Prevention Program screenings.

“How are you doing?” Tiffany asks me as the treadmill whirrs along. Well, I’m sweating. “Just a few more minutes,” she says, which I’m pretty sure I can manage.

I’m anxious to see how I compare to firefighters who are routinely screened at the lab. Earlier, Tiffany had told me the lab provides extensive heart and general health testing for firefighters across the region.

“Firefighters are three times more likely to experience sudden fatalities related to heart issues than the general public,” she said. “Sudden cardiac death while on duty is the No. 1 cause of death for firefighters.”

Saving lives of firefighters

While doctors aren’t completely sure why those rates are so high, the lab is working to find more effective ways to measure and prevent such occurrences. I’m surprised to learn that the same test I’m now taking saved the life of a firefighter a few years ago. The 43-year-old firefighter was active and appeared to be in good health, but his treadmill test showed reasons for concern. Almost immediately, he had six-bypass, open-heart surgery – two arteries were 95 percent blocked – but he returned to full duty four months later.

Paul Miller participates in a flexibility test as part of his overall health assessment.

In Fire Chief e-newsletter, Gary Green, chief of the Breckenridge fire department where the now-healthy firefighter is employed, praised the program for saving lives and noted that its success depends on holistic and individual approaches. “CSU doesn’t just look at how you did on the treadmill. They look at other things, too, like how you said you eat and hereditary factors. There’s no reason to lie about it. It’s not a competition with other people.”

Treadmill test just one of many

That’s nice to know, but now I’m busy competing to get more air in my lungs and stay on the treadmill. Two minutes to go, and the spikes of my heartbeat look like they’re jumping off the monitor. It’s all good, though: A stout workout means heart abnormalities will stand out to Dr. Risma.

Finally, Tiffany has the measurements she needs, and the treadmill starts slowing to a stop. I catch my breath, pull off the electrodes, and change into a dry shirt. Tiffany sends me off to take a few other tests with Brady, and by noon, I’m done.

Personalized info on internal engine

A week later, I’m back at the lab, looking through a 30-page book of personalized information on my internal engine. Tiffany patiently explains the wealth of details.

Blood pressure, pulmonary function, body composition via underwater weighing, strength and flexibility tests, coronary risk profile, 15 pages of diet and nutrition analysis, six more pages of exercise advice . . . it’s my very own user’s manual, an instruction booklet on how to live long and prosper.

I whistle all the way back to work.

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Spring 2010.