Lois Exelbert calls it “an exercise prescription.”
Susan Nylander calls it a lifesaver.
Both women — Exelbert, the administrative director of Baptist Hospital’s Diabetes Center, and Nylander, a patient who is on the path to better health — are referring to the diabetes exercise program at Baptist Health at the Kendall hospital.
The clinical program, geared toward patients with diabetes or those who are pre-diabetic, is like a health club for people who really are interested in improving their health. That is because they are at this gym by prescription.
“When you’re 61 and go to Bally’s you don’t look so cool. But when you come here and when you go to walk through stores, or go on vacation, you look better and you feel better and you move your body better and it’s working,” Nylander says.
Doctors who have diagnosed patients with diabetes, such as Nylander, or who recognize a trend toward a patient becoming diabetic, can prescribe the program. Patients will then have access to a personal trainer who will work with them in a supervised setting and embark on an exercise program.
The classes, held daily in a gym-like setting (albeit with heart monitors and other medical devices particular to hospitals tucked near the fitness equipment) include cardiovascular bikes and treadmills along with resistance training machines, free weights, medicine balls and resistance bands.
“Exercise has been proven to be a wonderful tool for the prevention of diabetes as well as diabetes management,” says Maggie Gonzalez, Baptist’s diabetes exercise specialist. “Exercise increases the action of insulin, the hormone made in the pancreas that facilitates the breakdown of sugar molecules. Because of exercise, that process is enhanced. The way the body then utilizes blood sugar is improved so it causes some patients to use less medications or no medications and less insulin.”
Over the years, Nylander has struggled with several health issues — diabetes, an ascending aortic aneurysm — and she credits the exercise program with helping her reduce her medications and getting around with greater ease.
“I finally became a diabetic and needed to go on insulin, I put on 50 pounds in like three months, and broke down in a puddle of tears. I didn’t know what was wrong,” Nylander recalls.
The structure of the exercise classes — an hour three times per week of cardio and weights — made the difference.
“We went to Williamsburg for vacation and that was a lot of walking. If I hadn’t gone to the gym I would have been on one of those mobile carts. I wouldn’t have gotten through it,” Nylander says as she gets ready to hit the treadmill on a recent morning session. “It’s so simple. We’re not doing heavy workouts but we’re doing consistency.”
Marilyn Garcia, 67, hasn’t stopped taking her medication for diabetes, but after two years in the exercise program she’s maintaining her physical fitness.
“I have a lot of equipment to use and it’s supervised. I get my sugar taken twice, I get my blood pressure taken so I can keep up with my health,” she says between stations. “The exercise is wonderful. Within an hour or so my sugar has gone down and I feel much better.”
And there there’s Lou Huertas who looks like he goes to the gym.
Solid, muscular, focused, the 73-year-old would stand out in a regular gym setting and seven years in the Baptist diabetes exercise program has kept him from having to take medications.
“My doctor felt that since I was in good shape this program would be good to keep me in shape as I got older,” he says of the hospital’s prevention program. Huertas’ doctor told him he was a candidate for diabetes and high cholesterol but with exercise he has kept his numbers in check.
Exercise, he says, “is a medicine, really, if you want to look at it this way.”
For when he’s on vacation, Gonzalez gives Huertas a workout to follow. He never skips on following her detailed workout instructions.
“He’s very disciplined,” Gonzalez says, adding that she tailors exercise routines for each individual. She takes into consideration physical limitations, such as orthopedic issues, age and experience.
“We work around those limitations and I tell the patients there’s always something for everyone to do, no matter what limitations are there. I’ll find something for you to do.”
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