NeologisticsRunning → Unfit

Unfit to Take Showers

March 12, 1999

Here's a true story that'll make you giggle.

The company I work for (Motorola Computer Group) has an excellent 24-hour health club for employees only. It's cheap: only $10 a month.

I've never joined it because I belong to another gym near home, where my wife and daughter are also members. I never thought I'd get $10 a month worth of use out of the club at work.

Recently I decided to try it out. It might sometimes be convenient to have a locker room with showers right downstairs from where I work. On certain days it could save me time. So today I went down to fill out the paperwork and give it a try.

They require a superficial medical screening. You answer a few questions about your medical history, and they take your blood pressure. That's it.

Like many readers of this article, I am a runner. I run marathons. I've been averaging 35-40 miles a week for over a year straight, and worked up to it for about three years before that. Two weeks ago I ran 29.4 miles, preparing for my first 50K.

"Big deal!" you're saying to yourself. That's because you, too, are a runner, and take such things for granted. You know you are fit. So am I.

I have a history of slightly high blood pressure. Nothing extraordinary. But the patterns I display are unusual. I have my own sphygmomanometer and track my own readings in a database.

I've found that in the early morning when I first get out of bed my pulse is normally about 47 or 48, and my blood pressure is sometimes as high as 152/96, but not often. More often it's around 138/88. But it varies radically. The systolic can drop 20 points in five minutes if I sit in a chair.

In contrast, after a hard run, but after recovering my breath, sometimes I'll come in and I will be as low as 95/61 (with a pulse around 53).

Strange to be sure, but normally it's on the high side.

And now for the funny part.

It seems that our health club has a hard number upper limit on the blood pressure measurement that they can accept without a doctor's permission: 140/90, at or above. So the young guy who checked me out measured me twice on both arms, and both times, both arms it came out ... you guessed it: 140/90.

The fact that I was still recovering from a month of low-grade flu and had a heavy chest, was only 36 hours off a seven and a half hour run, and had about six cups of coffee in me may have been factors. And my Total / HDL cholesterol ratio of 3.1, every one of 31 other blood chemistry figures taken just a month ago is in the normal range, and my exercise history are not factors.

The two health club employees laughed about it, because they know my history, and that I have been a member of another gym for over four years and work out with with weights three times a week in addition to running. But their hands were tied. Their job is not to make "medical" decisions, but to implement a hard-coded policy.

If the sphyg had said 139/89 I wouldn't be writing this, but because it came up with 140/90, I either have to try again some other time or two to see if the measurement has changed, or else go see a doctor who will sign a waiver saying it's OK for me to take the risk of exercising in their club.

The next night my blood pressure read 120/71 following an easy three miles. And yesterday it was 103/57 after three miles. Go figure. But I am still not enrolled in our health club.

And the irony of it all is that 90% of the time all I will really want out of the deal is to use the locker room.

Can you believe it?