A Prescription for Exercise: Wellness 180
Local residents prove that the best medicine doesn't always come in a bottle
More and more, cardiac exercise and strength training are muscling their way into medical treatment plans—and local residents are seeing the effects.
Exercise has always been part of cardiac care. Now, research is proving that at the appropriate intensity and duration, exercise not only improves symptoms and quality of life—it actually decreases the incidence of disease.
Recent studies on breast cancer patients show that survivors experience a 50 percent reduction in mortality and recurrences when they exercise. In other cases, blood sugar levels and blood pressure have dramatically improved. Exercise also decreases depression as effectively as medication and seems to help with autoimmune disorders and Parkinson’s disease.
The Exercise is Medicine™ Movement
Common sense? Perhaps, but not all healthcare organizations promote exercise as part of treatment plans. Many patients don’t consider it a legitimate form of medication.
The Exercise is Medicine™ movement began as a global advocacy initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association. The movement has a clear mission: bring exercise into more conversations between physicians and patients.
At Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital (NLFH), this new approach is already available through Wellness 180°™, a physician-referred, multidisciplinary exercise program at the hospital’s Health and Fitness Center at the Lake Forest Campus.
“In our programs, we’ve seen hundreds of patients use exercise to reduce the impact of disease,” says Jennifer Labovitz, founder of the award-winning Wellness 180°™ and the Medical Fitness and Wellness Manager overseeing all medical fitness programs at NLFH.
Labovitz, whose father is a cardiologist, was on the pre-medicine track in college when she became more interested in preventing disease. While working in cardiac rehabilitation, she grew tired of seeing patients who could prevent disease—or mitigate its effects— if only an appropriate exercise program had been “prescribed” to them.
“I created Wellness 180°™ because we had so many patients in cardiac rehab—many of them younger people who had already had a stroke or bypass surgery—saying things like, ‘If only I had started exercising and watching my diet.’”
Wellness 180°™ – How and Why it Works
Wellness 180°™ requires a physician’s referral, and is organized around four phases that start off gradually, build to greater intensity and then transition to maintenance (the program can last up to a year).
The first phase begins with a private consultation with Labovitz to establish a personalized cardio exercise program. Participants then meet as a group at least two times a week for exercise with a personal trainer certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. Certification requirements include 1,000 hours of clinical experience and an undergraduate degree in exercise science—a layer of expertise usually not required of trainers at commercial clubs.
Each member of the group is then eased into working with an NLFH dietitian and psychologist to learn about and address their diet and behavioral needs. These multidisciplinary components are incorporated into the sessions—they don’t require separate appointments.
Medical Fitness vs. “Working Out”
Labovitz clarifies that a medical fitness program like Wellness 180°™ is not rehabilitation, nor is it disease management. It’s a preventive approach for people on the verge of disease or who have one or more risk factors. They aren’t in a life-threatening situation—but they do need to change their lifestyle as soon as possible.
“Unlike commercial clubs, we’re integrated with the hospital; we have a medical director, and trainers with ACSM certification,” says Labovitz. “There’s a level of medical oversight that helps patients feel safe.”
As the personal stories linked below show, the program works not by drastic food eliminations, or hours spent alone on a track or treadmill.
“The number one thing I hear about what makes this work is the accountability, knowing there are others in the program and you’re in this together,” says Labovitz. “It’s not easy at first, and the motivation doesn’t happen overnight—but we help our clients get there.”