When it comes to being fit, it’s no surprise that Mississippi has the highest national rate of physical inactivity – 38 percent of the population - according to stateofobesity.org.
Ditto for alarmingly high rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart and kidney disease, maladies for which physicians often hand out a prescription for regular exercise.
That’s being addressed by the University of Mississippi Medical Center as it kicks off the year with new medically related health and wellness offerings that focus on exercise and healthy living. UMMC is acquiring the Courthouse Racquet and Fitness centers in a transaction that is part purchase/sale and part gift.
“We don’t need any new studies to show the medical benefits from exercise, independent of weight reduction,” said Dr. Zeb Henson, an assistant professor in UMMC’s Department of Medicine whose specialties include hypertension and internal medicine.
“This is just another forward step we’re taking on a road to achieving our vision of a healthier Mississippi,” said Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “To move Mississippi toward a healthier future, we need to be a leader in this field and our learners need to be exposed to it as part of their training.”
Not just exercise, but education is key to health and wellness, Henson said. Learning how to get healthy and stay healthy through wellness programs can be just as important as shedding pounds, he said.
Sean Alexander lifts weights at The Courthouse Racquet and Fitness exercise center in Flowood.
A regular exercise regimen and direction on how to achieve the maximum benefits from physical activity “provide a simpler way to aid our own self-discipline,” he said. “Changing eating habits leads to initial weight loss better than anything. Keeping the weight off often falls on the shoulders of exercise.”
Previously owned by Madison businessman John L. Black Jr., Courthouse Racquet and Fitness includes four fitness centers in Brandon, Byram, Flowood and north Jackson, as well as leased facilities in Madison and downtown Jackson.
What sets the UMMC wellness centers apart is their operation as an integral part of the health-care continuum. Students in UMMC’s six health profession schools will be exposed to the wellness model. And, UMMC has contracted with Power Wellness Management LLC to manage the six facilities. Power is a Chicago-area firm that partners with hospitals and health-care systems to create, develop and operate medically integrated wellness centers.
The centers are open to current and prospective members from the community at large, and for several years, UMMC employees have received family and individual membership discounts.
A second ongoing partnership between UMMC and the Courthouse fitness centers shows just how Mississippians can reclaim their health through a structured exercise program led by personal trainers. UMMC since 2011 has offered to employees at no cost a “Get Healthy” program at the fitness centers. Those taking part must have a body mass index of 30 or greater.
Some of the participants of the first Get Healthy program.
That program has included free family memberships and access to trainers. Since 2011, 40 employees have taken part in periodic 12-week sessions for a total 400 participants to date.
Dr. Molly Clark, an associate professor in UMMC’s Department of Family Medicine, is among that group. “More than the weight loss, I just feel healthier,” said Clark, who dropped 15 pounds. “I ran my first 5K in 34 minutes last month and plan to run another 5K this month.”
Such progress goes hand in hand with wellness, Henson said. “You can increase muscle mass. Independent of weight loss, you can get benefits to your blood pressure and your blood glucose metabolism, and you benefit by kidney and heart protection.”
That’s what happened to Annie Gates, business operations manager in the Renal Division. “I was able to get my cholesterol under control with exercise and diet. My doctor took me off medication for high cholesterol, and he was very pleased with my physical health.”
Arron Vickery, senior director of information technology, said the sessions “taught me many ways to exercise and lose weight, as well as taught me some things about myself.
“I learned about food choices and habits, and what I am capable of doing when I set my mind to it,” Vickery said.
Plenty of bikes available for spinning classes at the Courthouse - Flowood.
Current Courthouse employees will become employees of Power Wellness Management, and the number of staff is expected to increase in the first year to implement the wellness model. UMMC expects to invest about $1.3 million in upgrades to the facilities during the first year of ownership.
Although they’ve completed their “Get Healthy” program, most UMMC employees who took part say they’ll chase their health goals by keeping up the exercise.
“I’ve continued going to the Courthouse gym on a regular basis,” said registered nurse Ruthie Harris. “I was able to maintain my weight loss of 11.4 pounds over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.”
“I don’t want to set a limit, because I know there is much work to be done,” said Zosetta Cooks, a patient service coordinator in ancillary scheduling at UMMC’s Clinton office who lost almost 17 pounds. “I just want to continue my workout sessions and watch the results.”