In mid-March 2014 my travels took me to nearby San Diego, to give a talk at the annual meeting of the Medical Wellness Association (MWA), held in conjunction with the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) meeting. I gave a presentation along with my good friend and patient Mike Alpert, who is CEO of the Claremont Club (in Southern California) and Augie Nieto, the retired Founder and Chief Executive of Life Fitness. Mike has done an amazing job supporting Exercise is Medicine (EIM) at his club and working to connect fitness with healthcare. Augie, on the other hand, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gerhig’s Disease) in 2005 and had been struggling to find an effective treatment – that is until he began working out again at the Claremont Club.
Augie Nieto’s story is both amazing and touching. He is one of the giants of the Fitness World, having launched the Life Cycle and built Life Fitness into one of the world’s biggest makers of exercise equipment. After his diagnosis with ALS, Augie dedicated himself to helping find a cure for this awful disease. In conjunction with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he created Augie’s Quest and to date has raised over $30 million towards ALS research. At the same time, he has seen his own health and function decline like virtually all patients with ALS, despite having the best and latest treatment. That was until Augie began to exercise again in a specialized program at the Claremont Club, designed for patients with spinal cord injury.
Once again he showed that Exercise is Medicine, even for patients with ALS. It is the only treatment that has seemed to work for Augie and he reports significant improvements in his strength, function and overall wellbeing. Of course, I am not surprised that you can add ALS to the long list of diseases that are helped by exercise. In fact, there is almost no disease I can think of that is not helped by getting more active. Augie’s improvement has been so profound that he plans to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding this summer!
So I hope this story will inspire you as much as it has inspired me. When hope seemed lost in the face of a dreaded disease, Augie Nieto turned to the very thing he has promoted all his life – exercise. And of course it worked, just like it does for virtually every other disease. I hope all health and fitness clubs will get behind EIM the way the Claremont Club has. Unfortunately, the population I see working out at most Health Clubs are not people who tend to be sedentary and at risk for chronic disease. I am hoping that Health Clubs can be part of the solution for getting people around the world to be more active. To make this happen, these clubs need to develop programs aimed at patients who need to get more active and reach out to get them in the door – patients like Augie Nieto.
I hope you will spread the word that Exercise is Medicine and walking is one of the best ways to get it. Keep walking my friends!