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HomeHealth & FitnessCould a $40,000 Equinox Membership Really Help You Live Longer?

Could a $40,000 Equinox Membership Really Help You Live Longer?

On Monday, the high-end gym chain Equinox introduced a longevity program with a $40,000 annual membership fee.

According to a news release, Optimize by Equinox is “designed to unlock the peaks of human potential” through personalized nutrition, sleep and fitness coaching “based on members’ unique biodata.” The program is being run in partnership with the lab test startup Function Health, which was co-founded by Dr. Mark Hyman, an influential functional medicine physician. Function sells direct-to-consumer blood tests that assess cardiovascular, metabolic, liver, kidney and thyroid health, among other things.

According to Function’s website, its aim is to help people “live 100 healthy years.” Equinox doesn’t put a number on its goal.

“Health span is what we’re trying to figure out,” said Julia Klim, vice president of strategic partnerships at Equinox, referring to the number of years a person lives without serious illness. “But inherently, if your health span is good,” your life span should also improve, she added.

The program is the latest in a string of concierge health and fitness services that have capitalized on the current fascination with self-optimization and longevity. It isn’t even the most expensive — a $10,000-a-month fitness club is opening in Manhattan this spring. But scientists who study aging say that whether these services can deliver results worth their cost of enrollment is an open — and largely unanswerable — question.

So what do you get for $40,000? Optimize gives users access to Function’s panel of blood tests ($499), an Equinox membership (ranging from $3,600 to $6,000 per year) and an Oura smart ring (starting at $299). But most of the cost comes from 16 hours a month of one-on-one coaching. That consists of three weekly personal training sessions, two 30-minute meetings per month with both a sleep coach and a nutritionist, and a monthly massage. (Equinox private coaching averages $160 a session.)

There is little doubt that exercising, eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep — in addition to maintaining strong social relationships — are the best things a person can do for their health and longevity, said Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dr. Barzilai added that “there certainly is value” to personal training to help people improve their strength and flexibility, but he couldn’t say whether the Equinox program was cost effective.

That’s in part because, when it comes to longevity, it’s still unclear which type, intensity or duration of exercise might achieve the best results. Put another way, experts don’t know “whether this $40,000-a-year program is going to move you farther along that path” toward healthy aging than the cost of a pair of running shoes would, said Daniel Belsky, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

A related open question is whether the blood tests can tell you much about how to personalize your workout, diet and other health protocols.

Looking at the panels of over 100 tests that Function offers, Dr. Belsky said that they’re largely “garden-variety medical tests” a person could get through his or her doctor’s office. Some of them could inform clinically meaningful changes to a person’s diet or fitness regimen. But, he added, “the quality of interpretation of these data is absolutely critical to them generating any value, let alone approaching the value that’s being advertised.”

Jonathan Swerdlin, the chief executive officer and a co-founder of Function, said that the company contracts with doctors and nurse practitioners to review the results. (The frequently asked questions section of Function’s website says that the service “provides detailed insights from the world’s top doctors specific to each result.”)

Optimize members can then choose to share these insights with their team of Equinox coaches, who, Ms. Klim said, have been specially trained to know how to incorporate the findings into their recommendations.

For example, according to a representative for Function, if a lab test reveals that a member’s apolipoprotein B, which is related to cholesterol, is elevated, the report will indicate that increasing aerobic conditioning could help lower it. The Equinox trainer may then change the member’s workouts accordingly.

“The tests themselves, I mean, they do cost some money, but you’re really paying for the management system, if you will, the concierge service,” said Michael Snyder, a professor of genetics at Stanford University who has helped found numerous personal health companies, including one that sells panels of blood tests similar to those offered by Function.

For some people in pursuit of a healthier, longer life, the cost of white-glove service may be worth it. Others may just opt for the running shoes.

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