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Do you have what it takes to train those with medical conditions?

Healthcare through fitness is not really a new concept and goes back to ancient Greek times.  I believe there is an undeniable power in the collaboration of the two.

That is why I left corporate America 23 years ago, went back to college and then went on to take a dozen chronic disease and exercise specialty certificate programs.  My Dad was battling cancer for the 2nd time and I wanted to help people to have a better quality of life through fitness.

I was certainly a pioneer back in 1999 opening a “medical fitness” business.  I believed and still believe that I can help others restore people to health after a medical diagnosis, surgery, physical therapy or improve the quality their life through lifestyle changes, diet and exercise.

So as you can see, the concept of medical fitness is not new and the demand is rising as we face a global healthcare crisis beyond the pandemic.

Many of you don’t even realize you are already working in this space…

Are you working with clients over 50, have chronic disease (high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar), have given birth, going through menopause, thyroid issues, have had a joint replaced, have arthritis, osteoporosis, battling depression or stress and are on antidepressants, are obese (men over 25% body fat women over 30% body fat), have musculoskeletal disorders, have overcome cancer, have had an injury or surgery and just finished physical therapy and looking to you for fitness?  Yep, you are in the “medical fitness space”.  You have to learn about all this stuff and continue to stay up to date on it all or you may cause more harm than good.

These are our clients today. We called them “special populations” years ago. Most of the general public do not know how to develop the components of a progressive fitness program. People with chronic medical conditions have an even greater challenge. They need to find a fitness professional that has specialty training to understand their specific needs and limitations.

I don’t see how you can avoid working in this space as this is the largest, fastest growing demographic and who needs you the most.  Developing a plan for a regular exercise & wellness program can be difficult for these people; they require specialized medical fitness specialists who understand their unique needs.

I believe we are in a perfect storm. Fitness professionals can be the first line of defense against the impacts of lifestyle diseases.

This next-level fitness professional can help and coach people on a journey to optimal health.  Those stepping into the medical fitness space are gaining education to specialize in making the transition from medical management and/or physical therapy to a regular physical activity program following a surgery, an injury, a medical diagnosis or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition.  They are also learning about prevention and restoring people to health through a personalized fitness plan.

Do you want to broaden your potential customer base to this demographic by adding new skills?

So, what do you need to get there? Rather than looking at continuing education as something you must do, look at it from this perspective: how can I invest in my education to grow my business and have more clients benefit from my services? When chosen well, continuing education allows you to build on your current skillset or broaden your skills into entirely new areas.

There are millions of “unwell” potential clients in the market looking for you. Those with medical conditions or chronic disease are seeking specialized personal trainers; trainers who understand their condition and create programming to improve the quality of their life and understand their complex health issues when their doctor tells them to start an exercise program.

You have the opportunity to truly be a pioneer into a new era, one in which medicine and fitness come together.

Lisa Dougherty started her fitness career in 1999 and has worked for over 20 years with clients with medical conditions or chronic disease, amassing dozens of certifications and continuing education along the way.

Inspired by her father’s cancer battle, she created the MedFit Network to help connect those with medical conditions to fitness, health & wellness professionals who could serve them. Later, seeing a gap in specialized education for these professionals, she founded the MedFit Education Foundation to facilitate and create high-quality education for all facets of medical fitness.


a trainer helping a senior woman doing fitness

Exercise and Multiple Sclerosis

A study published by researchers at the University of Utah in 1996 was the first to demonstrate clearly the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Those patients who participated in an aerobic exercise program had better cardiovascular fitness, improved strength, better bladder and bowel function, less fatigue and depression, a more positive attitude, and increased participation in social activities.

multiple-SclerosisMS is the most common neuromuscular disease affecting young adults. The onset of symptoms usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. The disease is twice as prevalent in woman as in men.

The National MS society provides the following parameterof different functional levels of people with MS:

Level 1 – Mild: People with this level of MS may be walking independently but may also walk with a cane. They may have some visual and coordination issues.

Level 2– Moderate: People with this level of MS may be dependent on a walker or a wheelchair. They may be able to transfer themselves or they may require assistance.

Level 3 – Progressive: People with this level of MS may be paralyzed primarily in the lower extremities. They will spend most of their time in a wheel chair.

Associated Impairments

Fatigue: Usually mid-afternoon after waking up feeling reasonably rested
Spasticity: Most common areas of the body to be affected are the legs and postural muscles.
Weakness: May be present all the time or only during times of acute flare-up. Pain leads to disuse and disuse leads to even greater weakness and los of functional fitness.
Tremors: These are not predictable as exhibited with Parkinson’s disease. They tend to vary widely in intensity and oscillation.
Balance, Coordination, and Gait: Often the first symptom of MS is the great mental effort it takes to perform movements that previously were automatic. They may observe foot dragging and shuffling or a foot that turns in while walking. They may exhibit shaking and jerky movements know as ataxia.
Muscle Cramps and Spasms: Flexor spasms in muscles that increase flexion of a muscle may occur.
Numbness and Tingling: Most often sensed toward the periphery of the extremities such as fingers and toes.
Heat Sensitivity: High ambient temperature and humidity can exacerbate the symptoms and lead to fatigue, loss of balance, visual changes and general worsening of symptoms.
Vision: people may experience optic neuritis in one eye where vision may be blurred for minutes. Response of the pupils to light is slowed.
Hearing: Changes in hearing are rare.
Cognition: 50% of people experience some degree of mild cognitive disfunction.
Cardiovascular Dysautonomia: Irregular function of the autonomic nervous system leads to blunted heart rate and decreased blood pressure in response to exercise.

Benefits of Physical Activity for People with MS

Research shows that the proper dose of exercise can provide people with MS with beneficial results.Loss of muscle strength resulting from the onset of neurological damage cannot be improved through exercise. However, muscle atrophy as a result of disuse can be.

Regular exercise can counteract muscle weakness, lower the risk of bone fracture, improve the efficiency of the respiratory system, increase bone density, lower stress, and contribute to a general feeling of well-being.

The benefits of regular exercise and therapeutic fitness training include:

  • Maintained optimal health and decreased incidence of secondary health problems related to disuse syndrome
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased muscle atrophy
  • Managed spasticity
  • Improved cardiovascular function and blood lipid management
  • Reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced obesity and glucose intolerance
  • Depression lessened or eliminated
  • Improved sleep
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Improved balance and basic motor skills
  • Activities of daily living become easier to perform

Exercise Guidelines:

  • Incorporating mild interval training is an effective method to prolong stamina, as it enables people to perform more exercises without fatiguing or overheating.
  • Activities that necessitate pointing the toes should be avoided as that position might increase spasticity in the legs.
  • When strength training, focus on areas of muscle imbalance. Coordinate the flexibility portion with strength training static flexibility movements after that focuses on increasing mobility and lengthening of tight areas (chest, calf, and hip flexors).
  • It’s important to develop strength before endurance and participating in balance activities.
  • Use eyes to follow movement of a limb. This will increase periphery input and influence adjustments in stability.
  • Emphasize proper body alignment during all activities. Poor posture hinders controlled and safe movement
  • Incorporate warm-ups before exercise
  • Exercise progressions should be gradual and based on response and tolerance
  • Minimize stress to joints. Be prepared for low impact or non-weight bearing activities if person experiences compromised balance or numbness in their lower extremities, or orthopedic problems
  • Weight bearing helps to reduce spasticity, therefore, standing exercise are recommended if possible
  • Incorporate rotational exercise patterns to break up abnormal motor patterns caused by spasticity or rigidity
  • Do not bend neck forward (cervical flexion) as this type of movement can cause Lhermitte’s sign – a brief stabbing, electric-shock-like sensation that runs from the back of the head down the spine.
  • Avoid overheatinga trainer helping a senior woman doing fitness
  • Simple movements before complex movements
  • Static moves before dynamic moves
  • Slow movements before fast movements
  • Low weigh loads before high weight loads
  • Two-arm movements (or two-leg) before single-arm(or single-leg) movements
  • Stable surfaces before unstable
  • Quality movements before quantity of movements
  • Focus on core of trunk as well as stabilizers of each joint
  • Employ proper use of open kinetic chain moves versus closed kinetic chain exercises.
  • Focus on proper use of concentric, eccentric, isometric, isokinetic and plyometric moves
  • Maintain functional range of motion – know the anatomical motions that occur at each joint
  • A comprehensive fitness program should incorporate perceptual-motor skills – visual, auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive senses.
  • Balance training is important as it underlies nearly every static and dynamic posture that requires the body to be stabilized against the pull of gravity
  • The goal of cardiovascular exercise is to between 50%-80% of max heart rate

There are medical fitness trainers that are certified to work with individuals with multiple sclerosis. They have acquired the tools and strategies to improve physical fitness and functional ability for clients with MS who have varying symptoms of the disease and levels of ability. They have learned exercise precautions, program design, perceptual motor and balance skill development, and much more.

Lisa Dougherty founded Whole Body Fitness in 1999. She graduated from the University of CA, Irvine, Fitness Instructor Program, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise. She has specialty certifications to work with those with medical conditions, post surgical/rehab as well as pre & postnatal fitness. Course work includes: Heart Disease, Breast Cancer Recovery, MS, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s/Dementia, Arthritis, Respiratory Disease, Fibromyalgia, Knee and hip replacement, and Pre and Postpartum fitness. Lisa founded the Medical Fitness Network in 2013. 

Desert Southwest Fitness Author: Karl Knopft, EdD Copyright 2005

Instructor Showing Health Results On Clipboard To Senior Couple

Medical Fitness Network Can Help Clubs Meet The Needs Of The Baby Boomers

Selling more memberships is the continual goal of every health club. Making that membership an important and constant part of a new member’s life is the major challenge. Clubs can easily attract the under 50 crowd who want to look fit and create a healthy lifestyle. Most clubs market to this group. It is more difficult to get and keep those whose whole focus is weight loss.

Two women doing yoga workout at gym

Get Ready to Work with the Baby Boomers

There are 100 million baby boomers (those over 50), that make up about 30% of our population, and three-fourths of America’s wealth. They are expected to live longer than previous generations. This is the largest segment in our economy with the largest percentage of wealth. They are seeking help for their aging bodies. Because this is the generation of consumption and personal gratification they are spending at “boomer levels”.

How much physical activity do adults need?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention physical activity is anything that gets your body moving.  According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you need to do two types of physical activity each week to improve your health – aerobic and muscle strengthening.  

Adults need at least:

2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e,. brisk walking, riding a bike, water aerobics, doubles tennis) ever week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms)

OR 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running, swimming laps, riding a bike fast, playing singles tennis, basketball) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms)

OR An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

Muscle-strengthening activities – what counts?

Lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e. push ups, pull ups), heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling), yoga.