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What Is An Executive Physical? My Experience At Canyon Ranch

Nov 16 2022
By Susie Arnett
9 min read
Illustrated health icons above a doctor's hand.

In three days, I learned the truth about my body's health, why fad diets don't work on me, and how to best move forward.

I admit it: I’m a wellness junkie. I’ve tried everything from walking on fire to shamanic soul journeys. I thought I knew what was real and good, and what wasn’t. But I hadn’t yet been to Canyon Ranch.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend three days at Canyon Ranch Tucson doing their Executive Physical Pathway. I just began my position as the company's new Senior Director of Programming and Immersions, and I wanted to experience their approach. What I learned is, although the word 'physical' makes this experience sound clinical, it was far from it.

What does an Executive Physical at Canyon Ranch include? The answer depends on you. Imagine that behind your doctor’s office lies the most gorgeous, world-class spa. Then, imagine your doctor shows up at the appointed time and spends an hour talking with you about how you’re doing, asking questions, and looking at you instead of typing away on their laptop. Then, imagine that as part of her “prescription,” you get not pills but an appointment with a performance scientist, a masseuse, and a nutritionist, who happens to be right down the hall and used to work with Olympic athletes.

As wellness has become a 4.4 trillion-dollar industry, many snake oil salespeople have jumped onto the bandwagon, hawking products, and services with extraordinary claims. But as all the bottles in my bathroom and kitchen prove, although those benefits and claims sound good, many don’t deliver.

This is not true at Canyon Ranch. There are no fads here. There’s innovation and cutting-edge science, but everything is carefully vetted because no flaky wellness is allowed.

I've been on this journey for many years and have been to many specialists and experts. I thought I understood health and wellness and what I needed, but after going through this experience, I realized that, in some fundamental way, I had been led astray by current wellness trends.

A woman getting a body scan

After three years of working from home during COVID, with a kitchen three steps from my “office,” I’d gained 25 pounds. When my fantastic Wellness Guide Jim Eastburn asked me what I needed as I was planning my stay, the first thing out of my mouth was weight loss. He recommended the Dexa Body scan, a bone density test. I wasn't sure if this would be worth it, but I figured, why not try it?

After my physical with Dr. Downing, I got the results, and it turned out my concerns were completely backward. I went in worried about visceral fat around my organs because of my weight gain, but I was fine. What it did uncover is I was veering into osteoporosis land. Typically, doctors don’t check this until you’re 65. To discover this in my 50s was a complete shock, but it was also an amazing gift. I could now do something with this knowledge.

Later in the day, I experienced the wonderful Rite of Passage session, where we talked about my journey into empty nest-hood. Then, I had the amazing coconut melt massage. I spoke with a fellow guest in the steam room, and she shared that she came to the Ranch every year for her second, “real” physical, where she could get the blood work and tests she wanted that her primary care at home wouldn’t allow. At the Ranch, you get to drive the process.

The next day, armed with my bone density test results, I met with Mike Siemens, a performance scientist. I’d never heard of a performance scientist, but it sounded very official and important. It was, again, helpful and beneficial in a totally surprising way.

I’d been dealing with weight gain and muscle loss from 3 years of WFH, and trying to lose weight and build muscle simultaneously. Mike informed me that I had to make a choice. I needed calories, specifically protein, to build muscle, so it wasn’t possible to build muscle and lose weight (reduce calories) simultaneously. I decided to start with building muscle which meant protein in every meal and more demanding workouts. No need to think about weight loss for six months. Thanks, Mike!

Because of my bone density issues, which Dr. Downing had informed Mike about, he recommended I wear a 10-pound weighted vest around the house, for example, when I’m washing dishes or going for a walk. The added weight would help my body have more weight-bearing exercise throughout my day without having to add a workout to an already busy schedule. I love performance science!

Continuous Glucose Monitor at Canyon Ranch.

Finally, as part of my physical, I got a continuous glucose monitor, which measures blood sugar levels around the clock. It didn’t hurt when they stuck the needle in my arm, and before and after meals, I was told to hold my iPhone to it, and it would give me a blood sugar reading via the app.

I’ll admit that I had been worried about pre-diabetes because of my recent weight gain. According to the CDC, it’s estimated that approximately 38 percent of U.S. adults are pre-diabetic. As a result of my concerns, three months ago, I purchased the finger prick test from CVS and measured my fasting blood sugar in the morning and my levels before and after meals. The numbers weren’t good. I woke up in the low 100s (it should be below 100) and noticed elevated blood sugar levels before and after meals.

I got my CGM on my last day at the Ranch. After three days of eating healthy meals and walking around the property (it’s helpful when the dining room is a 5-minute walk from the bedroom), my blood sugar levels dropped over 20 points! My fasting blood sugar had gone from 110 to now in the 70s every morning, not only the day after I left the Ranch but for the entire week after my stay, even when I was back home. The results stayed with me.

Also, one evening when I had a late night out, walking around town with my son after dinner, I discovered I had dropped so low overnight the next morning that I’d become hypoglycemic. This explained why I woke up so tired and out of it some mornings. Very low drops in blood sugar during sleep can cause lots of problems.

Learning this explained why I was having issues with intermittent fasting, a popular eating strategy on social media where you only eat in a limited window of time. Based on this new knowledge about my body (not what a popular influencer thinks), I now eat some protein at dinner, and if I eat too early, I will have some protein an hour or two before bed.

P.S. As an aside, I also discovered from my CGM that the flavored protein powder I took in the morning on an empty stomach spiked my blood sugar. It’s nice to have concrete information about what’s happening in my body.

Benefits of an integrative approach

What’s so valuable about Canyon Ranch is that they don’t go all in on wellness trends. They want to get to know you for who you are, which they do through testing and conversation. Then, using that knowledge, your integrative team puts together the right plan for you, so that it's worth it for you. It’s wellness you can trust.

The Ranch is now my favorite doctor-nutritionist-performance science-massage therapists’ office. The medical and performance-science aspects of my Canyon Ranch physical were most eye-opening. Plus, I love that I can wear sweats all day and nobody cares. They accept me for where I am on my wellness journey without judgment.

Click here to learn more about our Executive Physical Pathway Plus experience.