Failing the Treadmill Test

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

December 19, 2005

At prices ranging from $299 to $4000, treadmills are the number one exercise machine in America, with sales reaching 11.3 million in 2003.  No longer dedicated to simple walking-in-place exercise, treadmills are specially designed to suit every possible need.

For serious workouts, treadmills can be electronically programmed to simulate hilly terrain and adjust to a runner’s pace.  “On the gimmicky side,” Consumer Reports says, “a growing number of treadmills load the console with gadgets such as fans, a CD player, a cubbyhole for a TV remote, and backlighting on the display that for some may evoke a digital watch.”

The popularity of treadmills should be a good thing.  Based on a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 1996), treadmills provide the most efficient way to burn calories when compared to other popular exercise machines.   Researchers asked young adults to exercise on six different machines, including a cross-country skiing simulator, cycle ergometer, rowing ergometer and stair stepper.  They found that subjects who exercised at an RPE of 13 burned approximately 40 percent more calories per hour on the treadmill as compared to the cycle ergometer, the lowest ranked machine.

So…if the popularity of treadmills is a good thing, if they are the number one exercise machine, and if they are made to suit every person’s walking or running style…why are we flunking the treadmill?  Yes.  A new study just published in JAMA shows that a third of U.S. teens would flunk a treadmill test.

Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston, calls the study results, “very concerning.”  As reported by Lindsey Tanner, “Ludwig, who was not involved in the study, called treadmill tests a good measure of fitness.  He said the results show that ‘at a time in life when adolescents and young adults should be at peak levels of fitness, there’s in fact a very high prevalence…of very low fitness.’”

The JAMA article comes at the perfect time.  Christmas pies and cakes abound.  New Year’s resolutions are in the making.  Surrounded by temptation, we attempt to compose a list of good habits and set a new course for our future.

Yet, the path to good health is fraught with challenges.  Treadmills, cheap or expensive, are only one part of the total program.

How do we put our teens on a pathway to good health?  How do we help them pass the treadmill test?

A website, 4teenweightloss, dedicated to teens, weight control and fitness tackles this question.  Armed with statistics demonstrating the seriousness of the problem, it gives suggestions and encouragement in equal measure.

It’s no surprise that parents are at the top of the list for creating solutions for teens.  “Parents,” 4teenweightloss says, “play a big role in shaping children’s eating habits….Parents have an effect on children’s physical activity habits as well.”

Our expectations for our children and our lead as role models for our children are the key ingredients in diet and exercise plans for our children.  Are we surprised?

Consider other threats to the well-being of our children…tobacco, drugs, fast driving, violence…and consider the role of parents in shaping the behavior of our children.  There is only one risky behavior where we waffle in admitting our leading role…the sexual well-being of our children.

When it comes to risky sex, sex outside of a lifelong, faithful relationship…marriage…we continue to look around for an easy fix.  In the same way we hope a grapefruit diet will take off pounds or paying out big bucks for a treadmill will create muscle tone, we hope that baskets of condoms will be the magical solution to unwed pregnancy, disease, and broken hearts.

A new year approaches.  New hopes.  New dreams.  New goals.  Good health is within reach.

If we want our children to pass the treadmill test, it’s a lot harder…and a lot easier…than paying $4000 for the latest and greatest machine.  It begins with us, parents.  Our dreams.  Our goals.  Our commitment.

May this year bring a renewed dedication to the well-being of our children.

Merry Christmas!


Good-Health tips for teens:

 February 14, 2005 – All the Condoms in the World

 See Archives for more past editorials.