Peer led exercise programming - proven therapy for chronic conditions

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, August 23 2016

Peer Led, an exercise program for anyone suffering from a chronic condition, will be starting up on September 12.

The program is a doctor-referred exercise class, led by Trainer Lesley Standerwick. 

Chronic conditions can include arthritis, heart conditions, diabetes,  high blood pressure, joint or bone issues and many other health concerns.  

September 12th will be Participant orientation.  All participants must participate in the orientation in order to participate in the program. Time and Location is still to be determined, other orientations will happen throughout the year.

As Standerwick explained, exercise is the one proven therapy for chronic conditions.  

“This exercise class was developed by Tara McNeil from the Shape Your In. She has done a superb job of creating a circuit style class that is easy to learn and follow and that is safe for all participants.  Each exercise is designed so that it can be modified to fit any one’s conditions or concerns.”

Standerwick said, “We have a fantastic group of volunteers. Volunteers undergo their own training so they are well equipped to lead the group and help those that have questions.”

The program startup has been funded through VIHA, but the perpetuation of the program will rely on a small participant fee of $2 per class.  This fee is on a sliding scale and should not be considered a deterrent.  The money is collected anonymously.

Gabriola physician Dr. Tracey Thorne spoke to the Peer Led group this past spring, stressing how important it was to participate in programs like Peer Led.

“People lose sight when they have chronic disease or pain that there is a lot of power within yourself to make a change and to improve your own health.

“When you go to a doctor and we’re measuring your blood pressure and giving you pills and sending you for lab work you start to feel you’re in a wheel you can’t get out of and you can’t make changes.”

Dr. Thorne said the evidence and research shows physical exercise is as important, if not more important, in the management of chronic pain an diseases than medication.

“We use medication because it is easy and we see the effects fairly soon in terms of blood pressure and blood sugar changes. But ultimately we’re not seeing the same changes people would see if they were to commit to this kind of work and this kind of program.”

Along with saving the overall health care system money - participating in programs like Peer Led can also save money for those with chronic conditions.

As Dr. Thorne said, “it is also cheaper than medication. I think when people are paying out of pocket, it seems like that $200 to $300 needs to be spent. But that’s far more expensive than a gym membership. It’s just easier and feels like the right thing to do in the moment.

Dr. Thorne said, “As physicians we need to be giving our patients more credit that they are able to take more control of their own health and wellness, where and if these programs are available.

“We have the program here, it is fantastic, so well done on showing up and encouraging the system to continue to support these initiatives because ultimately they keep our community healthier.”

Dr. Derek Poteryko, Island Health Medical Director of Community Health said Peer Led is a program which shows what grassroots medical initiatives can do.

“The community helps get happier and healthier.”

Like Dr. Thorne, Dr. Poteryko is a family doctor, but works out of Nanaimo.

He echoed her saing, “having our population move more is the best medicine for so many things.  It empowers a person with their health.”

Dr. Poteryko said, “along with the physical benefits, the social aspect of classes like Peer Led are an important reason for people to take part.

“Loneliness and isolation are huge barriers to health - having the ability to go out for a walk or class and then the social aspect afterwards - you can’t put that in a pill.”

Dr. Poteryko said he has four ‘Es’ which he asks his patients to follow.

1. Eating Healthy

2. Exercise

3. Ethanol - limit alcohol consumption

4. Eliminate tobacco.

“Those four factors have an 80% impact on death and disability - whether it’s heart attack, cancer, COPD, or lung disease. 

“If we could shore up those four factors, we’d have a greater impact on the health care system and better provide for those who do need the critical care.”

Standerwick said the hope is to have classes running 4 to 5 days per week in the fall at various times and locations.

Starting in September, the class will run Monday to Thursday from 11-12 at Agi Hall.  

“We are hoping to grow from there.”

Anyone interested can contact Lesley Standerwick at 250-619-9341 or discuss the program with their doctor.