By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Vanity + body fat = A heart pumping lesson in how we are perceived & how we see ourselves
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Somewhere buried deep in the archives of the University of California at Davis is an obscure health research paper.

Among the subjects is one 32 year-old, 5-foot-11, 190-pound Caucasian male.

The topic of the research?

The impacts of sudden stress from exercising on the heart of people who are well-conditioned.

How I got picked for it is a bit telling about vanity — mine, but particularly others that turned down a request to participate.

It also made me realize looks — and perceptions — can be shallow.

And it also gave me a stinging lesson in not being full of myself.

This was back in the day before Sutter Hospitals absorbed Roseville Community Hospital.

A medical technician working at the hospital was involved in a UC Davis research project.

It required him to secure eight healthy males between the ages of 25 and 40.

The participants — after going through an extensive physical — had to participate in eight weekly sessions on a Stairmaster set at a very strenuous level.

It required five minutes of actual exercise.

The kicker was that it had to be at full-bore from start to finish. No stretching. No warm-up. Just go from 0 to as hard as you could go for 300 seconds.

The hospital’s community relations director contacted me.

I asked the obvious question. Why me?

She said it was because I was into long distance cycling, was the right age, and appeared to be fit.

Without missing a beat, I noted the hospital staff had more than ample adult males that I knew who were into everything from marathon runners to elite cyclists who could leave me in the dust without breathing hard.

So, I asked again,  why me?

She shared the real reason they were struggling to find eight guys. The research required participants to be shaved.

There were eight spots on the  upper body that would be attached to monitoring devices.

Apparently there are males, especially in the middle of summer, that are hairy enough and have an aversion to having eight patches on their chests of hair on their chest and back shaved.

It wasn’t an issue for me even though I’m half serious when I joke I’m the missing link.

I happened to have a multitude of reasons why I won’t go around  shirtless.

I don’t want to be responsible for blinding pilots and crashing planes.

And, more important my body type — being endomorphic doesn’t tend to be muscular. Compound that with having just two years previously dropped 150 pounds and I’m lucky if I’m able to ever brag about having a one-pack.

So why did I do it?

It came with a  full-scale heart stress test.

Before I stepped on the treadmill, I was told the test would probably take 8 or so minutes as they gradually needed to get my heart rate up to a certain level for a minute, doing so at a constant speed whole increasing the incline.

I made two observations. I tended to sweat a lot when I get up to my target heart rate. And the other was that it might take me longer to get there than a few minutes.

The tech smiled and said something along the lines that he doubted that.

At the time I was logging more than 10,000 miles a year bicycling.

In my wildest dreams, I’d never be a competitive road racer.

I’m not an animal. I’m a plodder.

As such, I recovered quickly.

When I went on week-long fully-loaded bicycling trips averaging 75 to 110 miles a  day, I could keep going day in and day out while those that were accompanying me and almost half my age that were fairly decent high school athletes were biting the dust after four days.

Did I mention all of the trips involved crisscrossing Sierra mountain passes?

Long story short, the test took 20 minutes.

The tech had to take the incline up to the max.

An given he was standing next to me monitoring equipment and making notes on a clipboard, he had to not once but three times hand me a paper towel so I could try to stop my sweat from splattering his papers.

 Afterwards,  he noted he didn’t size me up as someone who was in that good of shape.

If it gave me a bubble of smugness, it was quickly popped with the next segment that I was dreading.

I was sent into a room for a body fat test. Given the hospital didn’t have a water tank — more about that in a few — it would be done with calipers.

There were no less than a dozen places I was going  to get pinched.

He started with my lower legs, reading off low one-digit numbers.

It stayed that way until he crossed the Rubicon.

He took a reading at my waist. Then he looked at his calipers as if something was wrong. And then he did another pinch.

The only exact words I remember from that day of being prodded and tested  were ones that mortified me but also gave me a sense of accomplishment: “Twenty-eight percent. You must be a cyclist.”

 Yes, I had clearly defined calf muscles that looked like inverted hearts. Frank Fiore of Center Appliance, who is Manteca’s undisputed bicycling guru, can tell you that it comes from a lot on  pedaling.

I cheated, though.

In addition to bicycling every day no less than  15 miles, I also hit Jazzercise classes three to five times a week. I’d even bicycle 36 miles round trip on Saturdays to a Jazzercise class or combine them on the way home on days I could bicycle to The Press-Tribune, which was a 28-mile round trip.

Did I mention I didn’t have a life back then?

Jazzercise, by the way, ties into the fat test in a big way.

I sent a bit of time talking with the tech about body fat.

He offered to arrange for me to take a body fat water immersion test at Sacramento State for a reduced fee.

I jumped at the chance.

Three weeks later and $100 lighter, I was elated to be told I was 17 percent body fat.

That number clearly is in the  rear view mirror today, but at the time it was almost on the cusp of being considered the ideal upper range for cyclists that were considered athletic.

I was so full of myself, I made it a point  to  get to  Jazzercise early the next day and brag about it to Donna Shaw, the instructor.  

Donna got me hooked on Jazzercise telling me — and rightfully so — it is one of the greatest cardio conditioning programs out there.

Imagine how my ego dive bombed as I walked into the hall in Roseville where she conducted the class and overheard her sharing with another student how her body fat test results from an immersion test she had taken came in at 8 percent.

I didn’t say a word.

Donna, besides being the top aerobics instructor I’ve ever had to the point she got me to be part of a demonstration team, had gotten seriously into body building six months prior.

In retrospect, I had nothing to be ashamed of given less than three years earlier when I weighed 320 pounds I‘m sure my body fat percentage was off the chart.

It’s human, though, to measure yourself against others and not yourself.

Once you get past that you can concentrate on stuff that really matters.