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Fit for Life helps build a weight-loss foundation

May 29, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 396 lbs.

Last week: 400 lbs.

Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.

Total lost: 74 lbs.

I wonder if the professionals who tried to help me lose weight years ago feel they had wasted their time. After all, I ended up spiraling out out control and gaining more weight.

People like my former doctor, George Cook, Adirondack Medical Center nutritionist Sharon Sorgule and Fit for Life coordinator Andrea Chamberlain taught me a lot about living healthy and provided me with the tools to achieve my weight-loss goals. Yet, for years, I failed to use the information to permanently improve my life.

I guess I wasn’t ready ... until now.

I’d like to let these health professionals know that their help had a lasting effect, and I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goals on the Lake Placid Diet without it. They gave me a foundation I could build upon, and I am eternally grateful.

Fit for Life was life-changing for me. In 2006, I entered the program at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake weighing 400 pounds. I had hit rock bottom at the time — which actually got worse within five years when I topped out at 493 pounds — and I asked my doctor for help.

Dr. Cook suggested a few options. One was bariatric surgery, so I attended the informational meeting and it scared the crap out of me. I decided to try a natural approach before seriously considering surgery. Seeing a nutritionist was on the suggestion list, so I saw Sorgule, and she helped me with a nutrition plan. Dr. Cook also wrote me a prescription for Fit for Life, a medically supervised exercise program, and it helped me tremendously.

I recently visited the Fit for Life office in Saranac Lake and spoke with Chamberlain, who is still helping dozens of people improve their health each year.

“Basically, we take that (doctor’s) referral and we design an exercise prescription, because it’s different for everyone based on your goals and limitations,” Chamberlain said. “We monitor blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels and try to educate you on what level you should be exercising at.”

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My three-month Fit for Life journey began in April 2006. I found my target heart rate, monitored my blood pressure and learned safe ways to exercise on the equipment. I still use the stretching exercises I learned at Fit for Life before working out at Fitness Revolution.

“It is a gym setting, but it’s more of a community setting,” Chamberlain said.

In addition to its Saranac Lake headquarters, Fit for Life has offices in Tupper Lake and in Lake Placid at the Adirondack Medical Center, downstairs in the old cardiac rehab room. Each facility has exercise equipment you’d find in a gym.

When I was in Fit for Life, they were helping me with weight issues. Plus, there were people recovering from cardiac problems and older women trying to stay active.

“Sometimes this is more of a preventative program,” Chamberlain said. “On the other end, some people have gone through something traumatic like a heart attack and they’ve gone through cardiac rehab and they’re here as a stepping stone. ... A lot of it has to do with weight because with being overweight comes hypertension and diabetes.”

Adirondack Health lists a number of medical conditions treated through Fit for Life: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity/inactivity, heart disease and minor intervention recovery, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoporosis and cancer-related fatigue syndrome.

“Our age group right now is from 14 all the way to 92,” Chamberlain said, adding that the 14-year-old is overweight. “So she’s learning how to be active and lose weight.”

The 92-year-old is looking to improve her balance, flexibility and simply moving around with day-to-day activities.

“For some people, they’re at a crossroads,” Chamberlain said. “We have some people come in and they’ve turned everywhere; they’ve done every diet.”

I asked for a Fit for Life success story, and Chamberlain told me about an overweight woman who had tried every diet but hadn’t stuck with anything. She was diabetic, overweight, hypertensive and on a lot of medication, and wanted help.

“She was actually looking at the gastric bypass surgery, and they said, ‘You need to lose weight before you can qualify for it,’” Chamberlain said. “So she came in and started exercising with us. Just keeping her motivated and committed to being somewhere two to three times a week — and knowing that we were looking for her to come in and exercise, and if she didn’t show up, she was going to get a phone call — helped her stay motivated enough to lose enough weight to where she realized she didn’t want to go the route of the bariatric surgery. ... She was able to lose more than 60 pounds.”

In the end, Fit for Life helped this woman turn her life around. It wasn’t quick, though, as it took many months of hard work. After graduating from the regular Fit for Life program, she signed up for the post-Fit for Life program.

“I feel like that’s a success story,” Chamberlain said. “If not, I felt like she probably would have gone the surgery way, and I don’t know whether she would have learned the habits she needed to have to help keep the weight off and keep a healthy lifestyle.”

I liked the accountability of Fit for Life. Making that commitment and keeping the appointments really kept me on track, at least for three crucial months.

“There is a factor that we’re here waiting for you,” Chamberlain said. “If you’re not here, you get a phone call. If you don’t come the next time, you get a phone call. So there’s accountability to it. You have somebody who’s designing your program and waiting for you to show up every time.”

In Fit for Life, Chamberlain normally sees patients two or three days a week. In the post-Fit for Life, patients can use the equipment up to five days a week.

“Some people choose to take what they’ve learned here and go out into the community to join a local gym or take a home program,” Chamberlain said.

The cost is a sliding-scale fee, out of pocket, based on income and how many people live in the household. It ranges between $30 and $65 a month. Those who can’t afford the program can apply for a grant from the Fit for Life Scholarship Fund. Adirondack Health holds two annual fundraisers to benefit the program: the Turkey Trot 5K run/walk in November and the Jingle Bell 5K run/walk in December. Both events are held in Lake Placid.

For more information about Fit for Life, contact Andrea Chamberlain at 518-897-2271 or visit online at https://adirondackhealth.org (search for “Fit for Life”).

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Blog Photos

Fit for Life coordinator Andrea Chamberlain (Photo — Andy Flynn)