ECU News Services

Jim Fields, a member of the Human Performance Lab, uses one of the facility’s elliptical trainers to maintain and improve his cardiovascular health. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Human Performance Lab saves lives
Cardiovascular Health Assessment Program now NCFlex-approved

By Karen Shugart

Until Steve Mullis walked into ECU’s Human Performance Lab, he thought his health was about average for a 60-year-old, overweight retiree.

A few minutes on the treadmill, however, indicated otherwise. Mullis was referred to a cardiologist and within days was scheduled for triple-bypass surgery to remove blockages that had closed up one artery and severely affected two others.  

“Had I not enrolled, or attempted to enroll, in this program, I’d probably be dead,” the Greenville resident said.

Few participants get news as dire as the wake-up call Mullis received. Many participants even get good news about their cardiovascular capabilities. Now that the lab has been approved for use with NCFlex dollars, lab staff are hoping even more faculty and staff will take advantage of its services.

Approved since October, the approval means that state employees can pay for the Cardiovascular Health Assessment Program with pre-tax earnings allocated to their NCFlex accounts.

If a major risk factor for heart disease is detected through the assessment, flex dollars may also be used to join the fitness facility. Such risk factors include high cholesterol values, high percentage of body fat tissue or having a hypertensive blood pressure response to exercise.

The CHAP includes an array of tests: cardio respiratory exam with physician; a resting and exercise EKG; a stress test on a treadmill; blood pressure tests; blood lipid and glucose screening; and a body composition assessment. Staff use the data to evaluate participants’ risk of disease and prescribe exercise regimens.

“We’re all firm believers that exercise is a hidden fountain of youth,” said Mike McCammon, the lab’s associate director and director of the exercise physiology program in the College of Health and Human Performance.

Since the lab opened in 1983, about 10,000 faculty and staff members have taken advantage of the cardiovascular assessment to find out just how aerobically fit they are, said Julie Cox, a teaching instructor in the lab.

That number includes people from all levels of the university, representing a range of ages, body shapes and health levels. After they undergo the $350 assessment, which McCammon estimated could cost more than $2,000 elsewhere, they can become member’s of the lab for $30 a month. That gives them access to the facilities as well as the expertise of the staff and graduate students who offer personal training at no extra cost.

The atmosphere, McCammon and Cox explain, can be less intimidating than that of some other gyms.

“What we’re able to do is bring it down to the level of where you are exercising for your health,” McCammon said. “You don’t have to worry about what the other person looks like, because everybody looks different in our lab.”

The lab, Cox said, is “smaller, more personalized,” than many gyms.

The cardiovascular assessment can be a safe entryway for people who haven’t exercised regularly. Some people, McCammon said, are a bit wary of exercise and may just not know where to begin.

“What our program does for a lot of folks is it takes away the concerns they have,” he said. “They’d like to exercise but think, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if it’s safe for me. I haven’t done anything for so many years.’ That fear factor limits people. We can teach people how to exercise smartly.”

After undergoing surgery in February, Mullis is back to all of his regular activities. He walks regularly. He recently finished painting the outside of a two-story house. None of it would have been possible, he said, if he hadn’t been warned at the Human Performance Lab.

“I was lucky,” he said. 

For information on the Human Performance Lab’s services, visit or contact Julie Cox at or 252-737-1295.

This story appeared originally in the Dec. 10, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at