'Doctor's Orders' at YMCA transforms lives

Julia Hollandsworth uses a stationary bike at the Martinsville YMCA. Behind her are (from left) fellow participants Carolyn Caldwell and Hollandsworth's husband Sam. At right is Gloria Stephens, YMCA program coordinator.

July 10, 2015

People under “Doctor’s Orders” to improve their health can get a helping hand at the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA.

The YMCA’s Doctor’s Orders program allows local physicians to write “prescriptions” for patients to receive one-on-one health and wellness consulting at the YMCA for a reduced fee.

It was one of three programs initially funded through a two-year, $70,000 Harvest Foundation grant to Activate Martinsville-Henry County in 2013. Activate now is a program of the YMCA.

The grant funds will expire at the end of this year. However, Brad Kinkema, CEO/executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA, has said the programs raise enough money to continue after that.

That is good news for at least two area women who have taken part in the Doctor’s Orders program and now recommend it to others.

“I still have a long way to go, but without Doctor’s Orders I might never have learned some of the things I learned” to recover from a painful foot injury and then pursue an active lifestyle, said Julia Hollandsworth of Collinsville.

Hollandsworth, 26, said she was not particularly active when she decided to get moving. But rather than starting slowly with the proper equipment, she started walking as much as five miles a day in shoes that did not provide enough support for her feet.

As a result, she developed plantar fasciitis, a common cause of heel pain that became so painful she could barely walk at times. Dr. Japhet LeGrant of Hill’s Chiropractic Center in Martinsville “knew I was trying to heal my foot and get healthier. He recommended the Doctor’s Orders program to me,” Hollandsworth said.

She met with a YMCA trainer for a 30-minute assessment and planning session. The trainer suggested Hollandsworth work out in the pool because it would put less impact on her foot, and he showed her different exercises that would not hurt her foot. He also taught her how to work out in ways that would not cause pain, such as by doing 3 minutes on a stationary bike and then switching to another exercise before returning to the bike, rather than doing 30 minutes straight on the bike, she said.

Hollandsworth was receptive to changing her approach and believes it helped her keep up with the program.

“People have misconceptions about working out. Right off the cuff doing five miles straight a day, that kind of mentality causes a lot of injuries,” she said. Instead, she learned to think about “doing more every time but not to where it was hurting or not motivating because you’re too sore.”

“Having someone who knew what he was talking about telling me it was OK not to kill myself in the gym every day … kept me going,” she added.

Hollandsworth said she said she saw “significant improvement” in her foot within three months.

“Every now and then I get a twinge, but it’s night and day (improvement),” said Hollandsworth, who now works out at the YMCA, bikes, hikes and walks — with the proper shoes and proper distance for the surface she is walking on.

She also recommended the program to her husband, Sam, who is taking part in it to get in shape, and her mother in law. He said he feels better and has more energy now that he has lost about 40 pounds.

He also praised the program for motivating participants and the YMCA trainers and staff for supporting participants in their workouts.

“We did a total life transformation,” Julia Hollandsworth said of she and her husband. The Doctor’s Orders program was crucial to that, and the couple also changed their diets and started taking supplements, she added.

            During the three-month period Hollandsworth mentioned, participants in the Doctor’s Orders program pay only $10 a month in YMCA fees. The YMCA’s $25 membership fee is waived.

After that, participants who join the YMCA get a special monthly rate.

Dr. LeGrant praised the program.

“When patients are skeptical about even joining any type of exercise program, it offers them the opportunity at an affordable cost to give it a try,” he said. “Sometimes it only takes 90 days to see if something is going to work for them.”

He said he has recommended about 10 patients to the program but does not know how many took part in it and for how long.

Dr. LeGrant said he learned about the Doctor’s Orders program from a patient. He suggested the YMCA more actively promote it.

“If they would push it more I would prescribe it more,” he said.

Kinkema said the Doctor’s Orders program was begun several years ago so the YMCA could help patients who were overweight, had arthritis and other chronic disease issues. Doctor’s offices in Henry County and Martinsville have pamphlets on the program and refer patients to it, he said. Only referrals are eligible for the program.

Participants do such things as water aerobics, walking, group exercises and more, he said.

“We monitor them for three months,” including tracking body mass index (BMI), he said. “Hopefully when we go back after three months, they have made progress. Then they can move onto becoming a regular YMCA member.”

Gloria Stephens, program coordinator at the YMCA, said she does a lot of hand-holding to encourage people to take part and continue in the program. For some people, she added, “just getting here is a big deal.”

Last year, 195 people completed the program, compared with 110 the year before.

“Quite a few people lost 40 or 50 pounds or more,” Kinkema said. “They are more able to be mobile and are not as tired with stairs. It also helps the quality of life” as participants become engaged with others in the program.

Some area physicians agree with Kinkema that it can be difficult to get patients to work out.

“This bridges that gap. There is a high compliance rate versus if they (patients) walk in their neighborhoods” to get exercise, Kinkema said.

The Doctor’s Orders program “gets people in the door who are nervous about working out or who may never have worked out before,” without a huge financial commitment. “They can see results and continue their (YMCA) membership and continue to be healthy,” he said.

Carolyn Caldwell of Martinsville said she always could find an excuse not to exercise until she signed up for the Doctor’s Orders program. Without it, she said she most likely would not have lost 20 pounds.

“I said, ‘OK, when the weather gets better I’d start walking,’ but I didn’t,” she said. “Once I got to the Y and saw how much fun it was,” she was hooked.

Caldwell, 68, found out about the Doctor’s Orders program last July when she moved into an apartment on Church Street. Stephens is one of her neighbors. When Caldwell said she was going to start walking around town for exercise, Stephens suggested the Doctor’s Orders program.

She had been trying to lose weight and build body strength, so she started with the Nautilus fitness machines and then added water aerobics. Now, she even helps water aerobics instructor Dawn Woodgate with the Hairston Foundation program that teaches children to swim.

“That’s a better workout than water aerobics,” Caldwell quipped.

She began the program in January and after her initial three-month period, she joined the YMCA and has kept up her workouts. Without the Doctor’s Orders program, that would never have happened because she had thought YMCA membership would be too expensive, she said.

Caldwell said she has gained more than her 20-pound weight loss from the program. She no longer needs shots for her arthritis and is working out regularly. And while she helps Woodgate with the Hairston Foundation program, Caldwell has taught Woodgate how to snorkel. She said they are talking about starting a snorkeling club.

In addition, Caldwell had been looking for a church to attend, and through Woodgate, she joined Calvary Christian Church.

“From the beginning where I wanted to lose weight, I’ve been given the opportunity at a reduced price to get better, lose weight and have fun. And it’s led to a new church family,” she said.

“I can’t brag on it enough,” Caldwell said of the Doctor’s Orders program. “The whole thing has been fantastic for me.”

Her physician, Dr. Patrick Favero, agreed. Favero, of Martinsville Family Medicine, said the Doctor’s Orders program is “good for the community.”

“We have so many people in this area who battle obesity and obesity-related problems like diabetes, hypertension and knee pain from osteoarthritis … it’s nice they have the opportunity to use the Y and work on weight loss and have a safe place to exercise,” he said.

Favero said he refers a “handful (of patients) a week” to the Doctor’s Orders program. He has the brochures for it in his office but he said sometimes patients have heard about it from family members or friends and they ask about it.

He also agreed with Kinkema that it can be difficult to get people to start working out. Some, he said, would rather take “one medication after another.”

But, he added, “they would be better off if they would lose weight and control it with diet and exercise.”

LeGrant said often people won’t start to exercise unless it directly affects their lives, such as their ability to play with their children, do their job or sleep.

“If you can get them started, that’s the hardest part,” he said. “If you tell them they have to work out and there is no perceived value, they’re not going to do it.”


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