I love that organic cookin'

I always ask for more

And they call me Mr. Natural

Down at the health food store.

But at night I take out my strongbox

That I keep under lock and key,

And I take it off to my closet

Where nobody else can see

I open that door so slowly,

Take a peek up north and south,

Then I pull out a Hostess Twinkie

And I pop it in my mouth.

In the daytime I'm Mr. Natural,

Just as healthy as I can be.

But at night I'm a junk food junky,

Good Lord have pity on me.

Larry Groce Junk Food JunkieI had long thought Groce's 1976 parody of the then-emerging fitness craze was one of the funniest songs I'd ever heard a hilarious put-down of the granola and yogurt set.

But last week, when the LDS Fitness Institute told me my blood cholesterol level was 259 an unhealthy step toward eventual clogged arteries and heart disease I didn't laugh.

As a 48-year-old male with a sedentary job and a family history of heart disease (a profile that fits an enormous number of people) I am a textbook candidate for an eventual heart attack. Throw in a high cholesterol level, and the odds would make Jimmy the Greek run for cover.

Sorry Groce, no more Twinkies for Knudson. Pass the granola and yogurt and point me toward Deseret Gym.

I took the institute's series of tests as background for an article on executive fitness participatory journalism and all that. I came away with a different story; one for which I'll now try to rewrite through diet and exercise the ending.

I am not the first middle-aged man to be shown the error of his ways by the LDS Fitness Institute. Since 1983 when the institute was founded, thousands of Utahns have run the program's four-hour gantlet of health, stress and fitness tests.

Sure, most people know their weight and blood pressure, but how many know their HDL/LDL cholesterol, their triglyceride and V02MAX, their musculoskeletal strength and flexibility, their exercise EKG, maximal heart rate and percent of body fat?

Astronauts and airline pilots do. And so do the Utahns who have undergone the institute's fitness evaluation.

Mark Miller, owner of Mark Miller Pontiac-Subaru is among that group. A self-proclaimed "fitness freak," Miller, working through his company's group health insurance carrier, has made the fitness assessment program and follow-up available to all of his 80 employees. Only one chose not to participate in the voluntary program.

Miller's salaried employees took the tests at the institute's facilities in LDS Hospital while hourly workers were tested at their job sites using the institute's mobile testing center. While Miller was given the overall results of his employees' tests, the individual performances were kept confidential.

Following the testing, Miller set up an incentive program with Excel America, a Salt Lake company that offers a catalog of prizes participants redeem with "Aerobucks." Employees earn these in a variety of ways, including quitting smoking, exercising, losing weight and not taking time off for sickness.

Sounds good, but like all attempts to change peoples' lifestyles, there are as many failures as successes.

"Frankly, it's frustrating to me," said Miller. "I haven't given out as many Aerobucks as I'd like, which means the employees haven't responded as well as I had hoped. Many haven't stuck with it even after learning how bad their health is."

But Miller isn't giving up. His executive staff will return to the institute for retesting, and the Aerobucks program goes on. Miller, who exercises faithfully six days a week, turns them in himself for prizes. "It's a great way to keep a record of how much you've done," he says.

IBM Corp.'s Salt Lake office is another believer in employee fitness with its A Plan For Life and Personal Health Account programs.

Mike Beck, branch marketing support manager, said 170 of IBM's 368 Utah employees have gone through the institute's testing program. Most, he said, have been very conscientious about following its recommendations based on their individual test results.

"The whole thing is geared toward living a better life exercise more, watch what you eat, manage life a little differently," said Beck. "And the 20-year-olds have been as interested as the 50-year-olds. It's better to start at 20 than 50 because, by 50, the habits you have developed are hard to beat down."

Beck said he is currently getting IBM head-office approval to begin a Risk Factor Management program at the LDS Fitness Institute this fall. The program will afford employees training in everything from CPR, water safety and first aid to weight control, exercise and smoking cessation.

While that program will be conducted through the institute, Beck said IBM hasapproved 15 separate programs offered by various fitness centers along the Wasatch Front.

Unlike Miller's company, IBM offers no incentives other than "being fit for life." The company's incentive, said Beck, is to have employees who are "sharper at work" and have fewer days off due to illness.

Although an increasing number of corporations are providing fitness testing and exercise programs for their employees, more than half of those who go through the institute's testing and counseling program do so as individuals and pay the entire cost (about $370) themselves.

Many people, when they hear the word "fitness," assume the institute's programs are meant only for professional athletes or would-be Olympians: Joe Average need not apply.

Not so, says Frank G. Yanowitz, M.D., the institute's medical director. The goal is not to attain super athletic ability, but rather overall "wellness," which Yanowitz describes as an optimal state of both physical and mental health.

"The driving force behind this concept is the knowledge that good health is necessary for an improved sense of well-being and productivity," said Yanowitz. "It's also a prerequisite for minimizing the risk of developing such chronic illnesses as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

"The new health concept implies that these disturbing ailments may be prevented by careful attention to lifestyle nutrition, weight control, exercise and stress management and by eliminating such self-destructive behaviors as cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse."

The institute, said Yanowitz, has developed a lifelong program of personal health maintenance with the goals of preventing disease, promoting optimal health, enhancing productivity and improving doctor-patient communications.

Does this mean supplanting one's personal physician? No way, Yanowitz emphasizes. "Our services are designed to supplement those provided by primary care physicians with a major emphasis on cardiovascular risk detection and management."

Timothy G. Butler, M.S., rehabilitation counselor and certified exercise specialist, is the person who meets with institute participants following the tests. He explains the results and makes recommendations for lifestyle changes.

When the institute was first formed, said Butler, some physicians "felt threatened" by the competition. That's no longer the case, he said.

"We get a lot of referrals now (from physicians)" he said. "Most doctors recognize that we can go beyond what many of them can do. We're just able to do more complete testing."

Nor can most doctors spend two or more hours with patients discussing their overall health goals. "We take the time," said Butler.

Although LDS Hospital has a fitness center it makes available to its own employees, the institute does only testing and counseling. It does not operate exercise programs.

As more women move into executive ranks and become subjected to the physical and mental stress that goes with the territory the incidence of cardiovascular disease increases, said Butler. Currently, the ratio of participants is about 70 percent men to 30 percent women, but the institute expects that figure will become more balanced in coming years.

"Women particularly post-menopausal women ought not to be complacent about their lower incidence of heart disease," said Butler. "Particularly with the increase we are seeing in the number of women who smoke."

Butler stressed that the institute is not "selling immortality," but he said he sees no reason why most of those who follow its guidelines should not live well into their 80s and, more importantly, remain functional.