Updates from EIM

Exercise is Medicine at Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center and Catholic Charities Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic Partner to Provide Free Lifestyle Medicine Programming to Medically Underserved Populations

February 7, 2024 by Tammy Rowland, MPH, NBC-HWC

Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center (FAFC), located onsite at George Mason University Science & Technology campus in Manassas, Virginia, recently partnered with Catholic Charities Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic to offer EIM-FAFCs first Spanish language, group-based, Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) program. Exercise is Medicine at Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center (EIM-FAFC) is committed to supporting the EIM Global Initiative by partnering with medical systems, clinics, and individual healthcare providers to establish physical activity as a standard of care in the prevention, management, and treatment of diseases.

EIM-FAFC is a comprehensive, 12-week, lifestyle medicine program for adults diagnosed with, or at-risk for, chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, hyperlipidemia, and hypercholesterolemia. Through EIM-FAFC, participants learn how to reduce their risks and improve their overall health through exercise and health and wellness coaching led by qualified, credentialed EIM Professionals. The overarching goal is for participants who graduate from the 12-week program to:

  1. Increase their self-efficacy to perform physical activity and other lifestyle changes resulting in improved healthy behaviors and quality of life as well as empowered advocates for their own health;
  2. Improve their chronic disease indicators such as A1c, blood pressure, lipids, and body composition.

The origins of the EIM-FAFC date back to 2019 when FAFC partnered with the EIM Global initiative and began accepting clients to participate in the pilot program. After struggling through the pandemic, EIM-FAFC has begun gaining traction as more people need lifestyle change services. Most program participants learn about our services via community presentations, print and digital marketing efforts, and word of mouth. While participants pay a fee, in 2021 EIM-FAFC began receiving donations and was awarded grant funding to assist those who could not afford the out-of-pocket costs.

When the staff at the Catholic Charities learned about the EIM-FAFC program through a local health & wellness community collaboration group, discussions began about a streamlined process to serve the large population of qualified patients seen at their clinic. When Catholic Charities clinicians began referring qualified patients to participate in the individualized EIM-FAFC program, there was initially extremely low retention rates for the one-on-one services offered, mostly due to transportation issues and language barriers. Furthermore, the cost of having a translator at individual exercise and nutrition coaching sessions was not feasible, challenging the EIM-FAFC team to create more accessible programming.

To address these barriers, FAFC implemented a Spanish-language, group-based EIM program. Participants were referred by their clinic physician based on their level of weekly activity and whether they were at high risk for or diagnosed with a chronic disease, and/or were diagnosed as overweight or obese based on their BMI. To eliminate the language barrier, clinic administration sat with each participant to translate and complete a medical history form. Additionally, a cultural ambassador at the clinic volunteered her time to translate the nutrition classes and educational materials.

Prior to beginning the program, each participant received a personalized biometric assessment to include weight, BMI, body fat and skeletal muscle mass. The program consisted of two weekly exercise classes and four group nutrition and lifestyle behavior classes offered over 12 weeks. Participants were also provided free membership to the fitness center during the three months they were actively enrolled in the program.

The group program was first offered to 10 patients referred from Catholic Charities, all of whom had metabolic syndrome. Half of the participants completed the program and were present for the final biometric assessment. At the end of the 12 weeks*, participants significantly reduced their weight (average weight loss of 5lbs) and BMI (average reduction of 1 kg/m2). Non-significant decreases in blood pressure and body fat percentage were also noted. Anecdotally, participants experienced more energy, pain-free movement, and reduced inflammation. As one client said “I feel so good, I don’t want this program to end.“

*Statistical analysis was contributed by Ksenia Eldred, Kinesiology Research Assistant, George Mason University.

EIM-FAFC is currently working with Catholic Charities to offer the program to a second cohort of participants beginning February 2024. To increase program adherence, an incentive (e.g., discounts on future membership) will be provided to those completing the full program. Expanded registration is also being offered to additional free clinics in the area. The FAFC is able to offer the group-based EIM program free of charge due to generous donations and grants awarded from local businesses and foundations, such as Walmart, Wawa, Truist Bank, TD bank and Leadership Prince William, as well as a large community grant from Sentara Health and a research grant from George Mason University. To increase our long-term sustainability, we will seek additional grant opportunities through local collaborative efforts.

Future efforts to expand our program include adding new clinic and provider partnerships, as well as workplace wellness benefits. For community members that are not able to participate in person, EIM-FAFC has partnered with EXI Therapeutics® to offer the EXI® smart phone app. Our long-term goal is to provide accessible programming to communities regardless of economic means. Though FAFC has worked diligently to keep participant fees to a minimum, financial barriers to health remain for a large portion of the community who could benefit the most from the program. Support of the EIM-FAFC program increases our ability to be part of systemic change that utilizes community resources to lessen the burden on healthcare systems and improve the quality of life for our community members.

For more information about EIM-FAFC, contact: Robin Frey, NASM-CPT, EIM-FAFC Program Manager, rfrey1@gmu.edu.

Catholic Charities, Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinics provide free, quality healthcare to low-income adult residents of Prince William County who are uninsured or under-insured. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington, is the charitable arm of the Diocese, serving the needs of the poor and vulnerable, regardless of their faith, on behalf of the Catholic Church in parts of central, northern and northwestern Virginia. Their work depends on a dedicated staff and collaboration with partner parishes and parishioners, a broad volunteer network, and generous donors who support the mission.

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