Technology takes fitness measurement to a new level

Published: Oct. 10, 2018 at 6:32 PM EDT
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Is stepping on a scale the best way to judge your health? Some nutrition experts say the number you see won't tell you how much fat or muscle you have, but a new technology hopes to give you a more accurate picture.

South Burlington resident Bryan Belisle hits the elliptical at The Edge with a goal in mind. "Keep the blood flowing, work on the cardio aspect of things," he said.

The 45-year-old says he also steps on the scale twice a day. "And it never reads what I want it to read," he said. But he admits he's not sure exactly what that number really says. "It's hard to tell, to be honest with you, because it doesn't give you an idea of what your muscle mass versus fat composition, so it probably doesn't do a whole heck of a lot."

But just a few doors away there's a way to find out with the InBody machine.

"This is used by professional sports teams. It's used by NASA," said Jamie Sheahan, The Edge's director of nutrition. She says it measures body composition instead of just weight. "So as opposed to a typical scale, what you're getting is essentially what your body is made up of, in terms of fat tissue, muscle tissue, water."

Because when you or I talk about losing weight, what we actually mean is body fat.

"Nothing is more demoralizing than making a lot of positive changes, working really, really hard, and not seeing the scale budge. I've seen it time and time again where I'll have clients come back to me and they're saying, 'I've done all this hard work and I stepped on the scale today and nothing.' And we'll put them on the InBody and we'll see it's because the gained 10 pounds of muscle and they lost 10 pounds of body fat," Sheahan said.

I volunteered to show how it works. Entering basic weight, height, age, and gender information.

"So I'm going to have you grip with your thumb on that electrode there and then do the same thing on the other side," Sheahan explained. Then over 45 seconds, a low-level current passes through my body.

"So right now it's measuring your left arm, moving down your legs." Measuring the water in my limbs and torso.

Moments later I get a printout with my results for us to go over.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Being perfectly honest, what do you see here? And if I were someone taking this test, what should I think about working on as a result?

Jamie Sheahan: So the main takeaways here -- the good thing is that you're in a really healthy range as far as your skeletal muscle mass. We can see that compared to the ideal range, you're about at 100 percent. We can see that your body fat mass is a little above what we like to see. That is above the ideal range.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Yeah, I knew that one.

Jamie Sheahan: And that's okay. The nice thing about this is it gives you something to target.

Finding out your body fat percentage is a bit higher and you might have to switch up your lifestyle isn't fun, but Sheahan says to consider it motivating and not discouraging. "Ignorance isn't bliss. This gives you a good sense of where you're at health-wise," she said.

And if you don't have access to the InBody machine, she says waist measurements, how your clothing fits, and how you feel are also sometimes more reliable than your scale.

To set up a screening, email it costs $50 for the first screening and $25 for every screening after that. Insurance does not cover it at the moment, but Sheahan says that may change in the future as more medical centers and doctor offices start using the device.