According to recent findings by the state Department of Public Health, Springfield has the highest rate of obesity in the state. The city also exceeded Massachusetts’s rates for deaths related to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
In response to that report and the growing need to help area residents improve their cardiovascular health, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Mass. in Ludlow has implemented a new Cardiac Wellness Program.
Designed for individuals who have or are at risk for heart disease, the program offers a variety of exercise and education-based options to help people achieve a healthier lifestyle.
“Often, after a person completes cardiac rehabilitation or is diagnosed as being at risk for heart disease, they need help to maintain a healthy weight, control their blood pressure, and improve their overall fitness level,” explained Monica LeBlanc, a registered nurse and education coordinator at HealthSouth. “The program provides affordable services, support, and clinical expertise to help people achieve those objectives.”
The six-week program includes a supervised exercise program, weekly educational sessions, weight-loss and weight-maintenance services, and blood-pressure screenings.
Upon review of a participant’s medical history and goals, a rehabilitation professional devises an individualized exercise plan directed at reaching those goals.
The clinician then guides the participant through the plan, teaching proper use of equipment and the importance of following a safe, progressive exercise regimen. Other exercise opportunities are also available, including low-impact aerobics, free weights, and strength and resistance training.
On Wednesday evenings, participants can attend educational sessions dedicated to heart-healthy nutrition, getting the most out of doctor visits, healthy lifestyle management, and adjusting to heart disease. If weight loss is a goal, they can also access a new, FDA-approved device that determines how many calories and how much exercise they need to lose weight and maintain fitness.
According to rehabilitation assistant Sherry Marchessault, all of these elements come together to help people realize there are realistic steps they can take to improve their health.
“When people see they can achieve positive short-term goals, it boosts their self-confidence, which helps them to reach their long-term goals,” she said. “Then, because they feel better about themselves, they are more likely to continue their efforts once the program is over.”
Such was the case for Helen Giza, a Ludlow resident who decided to give the program a try because of concerns about recent weight gain and problems with hypertension. “I wanted to feel better and find a way to wean myself off of the high-blood-pressure medication,” she said.
“Within a few weeks, I noticed a difference in how I felt. I had more energy, and I also derived a lot of strength in terms of my ability to handle stress.”
In Marchessault’s view, that ability is yet another key to achieving cardiac wellness.
“These days, stress is a major factor in why many people don’t feel well. It also one of the primary contributors to high blood pressure,” she said. “People think that working out is just for the muscles, but it’s also for the mind and spirit. That’s why participation in a program like this one can lead to improved overall wellness.”
Mary Herman-Cappoli is the community relations director at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Ludlow. For more information about the facility’s Cardiac Wellness Program, call (413) 589-7581, ext. 3365.