Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Baseline Data

Fr. Dale Matson

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, KJV)

While this posting may seem initially to have little to do with Christian life, having baseline data is the starting point for both self-knowledge and/or beginning an intervention for oneself or others. It is data based decision making.  When I taught a “Wellness” class for school psychology students, I would ask them what their resting heart rate was. Almost none of the students knew this number nor did they particularly care about physical activity in the midst of this rather cognitive experience called graduate school.
Over the span of the Wellness class, students were asked to determine their resting heart rate and use this as a baseline number to determine their level of fitness.  They were then assigned a daily aerobic exercise regimen of walking, running, swimming or biking based on Kenneth Cooper’s fitness plan for the duration of the ten week class. While the average resting heart rate is generally about 70 to 80 beats per minute, the figure varies from person to person. What is important to know is that, whatever the baseline heart rate is, it will be lowered by the initiation of regular exercise.  In this case, for the majority of these students, it meant an increase from zero exercise. Of course this was done with the knowledge and approval of the students’ physicians.

There was a twofold purpose in this assignment. It was a practical assignment in the use of data to quantify pre and post intervention change, with resting heart rate as the dependent variable and exercise as the independent variable. This is scientific methodology that can also be applied to behavioral interventions for students in schools. It was also an opportunity for the graduate students to improve their overall health, lower their resting heart rates and to see exercise as a proactive means to deal with the stressful conditions under which school psychologist’s work. Establishing baseline data can be a form of self-knowledge. I have nearly twenty years of heart rate performance data using Polar and Garmin heart monitors.
It was quite a novel experience for these students to have exercise as homework in addition to lighter reading and writing assignments. I used Covert Baily’s book, “The Ultimate Fit Or Fat” (1999). The book offers sophisticated fitness training in unsophisticated language and is still technologically current.

How did this affect the students? Over the years individual students went on to run their first marathon and many hikes to the top of Half Dome were organized by students. I even ran into one of the program graduates when I was hiking the north fifty miles of the John Muir Trail a few years ago.  Many have told me that exercise has been an important means of relieving stress in their work. For me, it is simply being a good steward of the body God has given us.

For me the bottom line in knowing our baseline physical self is in our own health care. A doctor is only a consultant. The person ultimately in charge of your health is you. Only you know what is normal for you. Being assertive about your health is more important than being assertive about other things you contract services for.

Early this year, I had been feeling poorly following surgery and had experienced considerable blood loss by the time of my six week follow-up appointment. I told the doctor about this and he asked me for symptoms. I said that the most troubling thing for me was that my resting heart rate was sixty beats per minute. His response was predictable. “Why does sixty beats per minute cause you concern?” I said, because my normal resting heart rate is 42 beats per minute. (Most doctors would consider this low rate a pathological sign called bradycardia). I said, that is my baseline resting heart rate and has been for the last twenty years. When I walk and jog, my heart rate is about twenty beats above normal too. The doctor ordered a blood test and the Hematocrit (HMT) level was 25 (low normal for a man is 41). When the doctor saw the results, he ordered an infusion for me the next day; two units of packed red blood cells.

Know what your baseline is. Know what is normal for you. Know yourself. Keep records on yourself and do not depend on your doctor to know you as well as you know yourself. Be assertive. Two weeks after the infusion I requested another blood test to determine if the HMT numbers were going up or down. I also added iron building food and supplements to my diet. I have scheduled another blood test to determine if I am back in the normal range. But….my resting pulse is now 46 and that suggests to me that things are improving before even knowing the results of the next blood test.

Do you know your resting heart rate? Take care of the temple God has given you.         

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