Not A New Pump, Rather A “NuStep” From Dick Sarns

I retired in December of 2014.  Anyone who retires thinking all their problems are solved should think again; finances, health care, estate planning, etc.  My primary concern, however, was not any of those things.  I was primarily concerned with staying active now that I was not going to work every weekday.  My health is not the best; I am an overweight, hypertensive diabetic with metabolic syndrome.  This is not the best thing to be during retirement years. So I started my search to find a way to exercise for my health.

I always hated exercise.  Since I was in my 20’s my lower back had always been painful.  Exercise was always a tradeoff.  Things like jogging, treadmills, exercise bikes, weight training and even just distance walking were good for my health but killed my back.  I was never able to maintain any consistent exercise habits because the back pain eventually became intolerable. I like swimming, but it is always such a hassle to pack-up, drive to the pool during those select hours when they had aerobic classes, get wet, dry off and then come home.  And this was difficult to do every day, particularly during bad weather.

One day I visited the local YMCA to see what programs they offered for people in my predicament.  They had a huge room filled with exercise equipment of all kinds and plenty of perky advisors to help me. There were treadmills, ellipticals, steppers, stationary bicycles, recumbent bicycles, weight machines and free weights of all kinds.  Some of the equipment was being used by “Y” members, but most machines were vacant except for one kind.  Lined up along one side of the room were five identical exercise machines.  Each of these five machines was occupied and being actively used by an old fogey (both men and women) like me. And there was a line of people waiting to get on these machines.  I asked one of the advisors about this machine and she said it was a “NuStep”.  Eventually I was able to try out one of these machines and I spent 60 minutes moving my arms and legs with both speed and resistance.  I could easily work up a sweat and reach my target heart rate. I must have overdone it my first time because I was a little dizzy when I finished and stood up.  But I wanted to push it to see if my back could take it.  In fact my back didn’t hurt at all!  For the first time in 40 years I actually felt invigorated after working out. So I went home and began researching the “NuStep”.  I found lots of information on Google and YouTube. I learned that the NuStep is one of the most popular exercise machines used in rehab centers and retirement homes.  Often when the first NuStep arrives the facility has a party to celebrate (1). In smaller towns the arrival of the first NuStep is front page news in the local newspapers (2,3).

The NuStep concept was proposed in the 1980’s by an exercise physiologist working in cardiac rehabilitation.  He recognized that many older or disabled patients could not safely or effectively use the existing exercise equipment to get their heart rate up.  (Ever see someone stumble and fall off a treadmill? It can be nasty!)  In addition, his mother had multiple sclerosis and was wheel chair dependent. She could not effectively perform cardio exercises either. So in 1987 with his father, a retired engineer, they came up with a new concept; an exercise machine for people who can’t exercise.

The NuStep concept could be used to help all kinds of patients; stroke patients, paraplegic patients, quadriplegic patients, and amputees.  It has been used in cardiac care, weight loss, arthritis, neurological conditions, spinal cord injuries, brain health and rehab-to-home. It has benefits for range of motion and maintaining muscle mass in disabled or older patients. One special education school has found that autistic children really like the NuStep because it provides a comfortable and relaxing repetitive motion that they will stick with rather than being bored on a treadmill (4).

The interesting back story for perfusionists is that the exercise physiologist is Steve Sarns and his father is Richard Sarns who started Sarns Medical back in the 1960s.  (A perfusionist operates the heart/lung pump during open heart surgery.) Dick Sarns designed and built some of the first mass produced heart/lung pumps until the 1980s when he was bought out by 3M Corp.  I have used many of his pumps over the years.  They were built like an Abrams tank, meant to last a lifetime.  I thought if Dick’s NuStep is built anything like his pumps, it would be a quality piece of equipment. So instead of joining the local YMCA and waiting in line to use it, I decided to buy own NuStep so I could use it at home anytime I wanted; day or night, rain or shine.

NuStep Inc. only makes three exercise machines, all of the same basic design.  The only difference is that the T4R is designed for user weight of 400 pounds or less, the T5 is designed for user weight up to 500 pounds and the T5XR for user weight up to 600 pounds. For morbidly obese patients these may be the only exercise machines they can safely use (5).

The equipment is somewhat pricy. I bought the T4R. After the purchase price, shipping and set-up, it cost about $4400.  My treadmill cost about $3000 five years ago, but I can no longer use it (however my wife still does).  I think I will be able to use my NuStep for the rest of my life even if I become partially debilitated by one of the common old age infirmities.  There is a YouTube video of a woman over 100 years old using a NuStep (6).

Richard’s and Steve’s desire to transform lives for the better is at the heart of their company. For example, NuStep Inc. established the Pinnacle Award® in 1998 to recognize senior organizations supporting healthy aging through whole-person wellness programming. Award winners receive national recognition in the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) Journal and a new NuStep machine.  NuStep, Inc. also contributes to many local and national organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Alzheimer’s Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, United Way, Project Healthy Schools, Toys for Tots and C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital of Ann Arbor.

Both in form and function the NuStep reminds me of the time machine from the 1960 Rod Taylor movie. I am seated like the time traveler and when I pull the levers time seems to pass quickly.  I have never understood the “runner’s high” before because I was always dealing with back pain during exercise.  But now, pain free, as I focus my mind and energy during my workout I have clarity of thought.  It was during a NuStep workout that I was inspired to write this article.

I got my NuStep in March of 2015.  I use it once or twice daily for 35 minutes.  I have lost a little weight but the biggest change has been in my blood pressure.  Prior to starting the NuStep my blood pressure averaged 145/77 on medication.  After 3 ½ months with the NuStep my blood pressure is 131/64 on half the meds. That says a lot!


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Perfusion Theory is an educational platform for the Oxygen Pressure Field Theory (OPFT). August Krogh’s theoretical concept of the oxygen pressure field is explained and then applied to clinical applications in perfusion practice.

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