UHealth’s Supervised Exercise Program Makes Fitness a Medical Priority

Linda Eads entered the Supervised Exercise Program offered by UHealth – the University of Miami Health System because “I had high cholesterol, my legs and hips hurt — and I hated to sweat.”

Norman H. Altman, V.M.D., says, “I had an illness that caused neuropathy. After it was successfully treated, I realized I needed to get into a regular exercise program.”

The two program participants had different incentives for signing up, but what they had in common was a lack of regular exercise.

“Many people think that exercise is for looking good in a bathing suit,” said Tony Musto, Ph.D., director of fitness programs at the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center, where the Supervised Exercise Program is offered, “but what we have built since its original launch on the Coral Gables campus in 2001 is a medically based program focused on cardiovascular health.

“Our typical participant is someone who is sedentary and has multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Their doctor may have told them to start exercising, but they may not know where to go, or they may be reluctant to exercise because they don’t feel safe. In this program, we are watching them and measuring them, so we can help them progress.”

Eads, an educational entrepreneur, typifies many of the Supervised Exercise Program’s participants — constantly on the go but too busy to exercise.

“I needed a customized program because I travel every two weeks,” said Eads. “In addition, somebody who never liked to exercise is not a piece of cake to work with. Nonetheless, it worked out beautifully. I have shaped up, my breathing is better, and I feel terrific now. Young people have trouble keeping up with me!”

Altman, who serves as the ombudsperson for the Miller School of Medicine, has also gained multiple benefits from the program.

“I have no cardiovascular problems, but we are working to strengthen that system to keep problems from developing,” he said. “Exercise helps so many areas. One of the benefits is that I’m able to lose some weight. It’s a great combination.”

The key, says Musto, is that the program’s two health and fitness specialists, Michael Bello and Alexis Canaves, develop an individualized exercise regimen for each participant.

“First, we do a pre-assessment that tells us where to start you,” he said. “We constantly measure variables, such as heart rate and blood pressure, to determine when it is safe to progress you. Since we are monitoring the session, it allows us to progress people a little more aggressively than if they exercised alone. At the end, we do a post-assessment to see how much you have improved. Then we give you an exit program so you can continue on your own.”

So far, he reports, more than 80 people have completed the program, and many have continued exercising. Some opt to do so on their own, while others who prefer guidance work with one of the center’s trainers. Eads works out twice a week with personal trainer Anas Mahmoud.

“Each time I come in, he has a different routine for me, so I don’t get bored but still work the correct muscles,” she said. “He has really made a difference. I also swim two days a week. I have high energy, and it’s invigorating. I attribute this to the strength in my body. The positive impact it has had on me has turned me around, and I wouldn’t give up the pleasure I get from coming here.”

Altman, who first went through the program a few years ago, found his professional responsibilities were cutting into his solo workouts, so earlier this year he signed on again.

“The staff is knowledgeable, extremely positive and attentive,” he said. “There’s a commitment not only to the program, but also to each individual.”

The Supervised Exercise Program is available to UM faculty, staff, students and the public. To be eligible for the program, candidates must have a referral from their physician and possess at least two of the following risk factors:

• Obesity (BMI above 30 or waist more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women).

• High blood pressure or on blood pressure medication.

• High cholesterol or on cholesterol medication.

• Pre-diabetic/diabetic or on blood sugar medication.

• Sedentary (having exercised less than three days a week for at least six months).

One-hour sessions are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. Each session is limited to eight participants. The program is also being offered again on the Coral Gables campus at the Herbert Wellness Center, for employees only, at 6:30 and 7:30 a.m.

Each participant is given an initial fitness assessment that is used to create a personalized exercise prescription that includes a series of goals. Classes are a mix of cardiovascular exercise and a weight-training circuit. The cardiovascular portion initially is 20 minutes long and progresses to 40 minutes over time. The weight-training portion is a seven-exercise circuit using machines that work the major muscle groups.

The cost is $300 for 36 classes that must be completed over a 14-week period. Payroll deduction is available. Participants do not have to be a member of the center. In addition, UM employees who complete all 36 sessions within 14 weeks will receive a $60 rebate. Upon completion of the program, employees can also earn 500 points toward their Well ’Canes incentives point total.

The UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center is located on the ninth floor of the Don Soffer Clinical Research Center. Additional information is available at the Supervised Exercise Program website or by calling 305-243-7802 or emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Interested people can begin the registration process using the program’s screening form.

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