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Fitness center helps those with chronic illnesses

Participants in Valley Health's Next Steps program cool down after a Sit and Sweat Yoga class under the direction of instructor Amanda Lindquist. The class is part of the medically integrated fitness program, which encourages individuals living with chronic diseases to exercise regularly. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER -- Physicians are quick to tell their patients with chronic illnesses about the benefits of exercise, but many may find it difficult to actually join a gym. Valley Health's Wellness and Fitness Center is making an effort to ease that transition.

The center started its Next Steps program in February. Though it had always offered the services, Next Steps is designed specifically to help those with chronic illnesses have an easier transition into a new fitness routine.

Medical Integration Coordinator Patrick Bos said gyms oftentimes intimidate many patients. Medically integrated fitness programs, though, offer a safe environment in which their medical wellbeing is as important as their fitness.

Someone who had a heart attack, for example, may have been in cardiac rehabilitation, exercising in an environment they knew was safe.

"Then they leave cardiac rehab, and they think, 'I can't function outside of this,'" Bos said.

Next Steps is an eight-week program that guides patients through that transition period, allowing them to step down from the medical setting into another, comfortable exercise environment.

"So whereas they might not have continued their exercise routine, now they'll have the confidence to do so," Bos said.

Since it started in January, 20 people have completed the program. Of those, 15 continued their membership afterwards, while four had already been members before starting the program.

"So 94 percent have continued working out here after completing it," Bos said.

Physicians sometimes refer patients to the program, but anyone with a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, can sign up.

It includes a physical fitness assessment at the beginning and end, and 14 workouts between. It costs $99.

Those workouts can be on the floor with the center's floor staff, Bos said, or in one of the center's pools. Participants can also choose from the 420 classes offered every month.

Some classes are designed specifically for the Next Steps program, including the Sit & Fit Yoga class.

Sally Vascoy, 68, of Stephen's City, had a knee replacement in January. Since starting the program she said she's seen an immense improvement.

"The recovery was super," she said. "[The class] really loosened me up."

Vanscoy is scheduled to have her other knee replaced in a few weeks, and she said she believes the exercise will help her get through that surgery, as well.

According to Bos, exercise is vital to anyone who is recovering from a chronic illness or trying to keep an illness at bay.

"Lack of physical activity is a risk factor in and of itself," Bos said.

The center has been working to communicate the importance of exercise to its members through evidence-based practice. Director Jeff Jeran said it will soon participate in a pilot study with the Medical Fitness Association to illustrate how exercise impacts those with illnesses.

Jeran said the fitness center has been the front door for the health system, introducing them to Valley Health so they feel comfortable using its services if they should have an episode. Now, with the medically integrated fitness programs, the center is also the back door.

"If they have a chronic condition and they're on the mend, they can come over here and we can continue that improvement and quality of life," Jeran said.

To learn more about the fitness center, or to sign up for program, go to www.vhwellfit.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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