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Kaiser Permanente and East Side Athletic Club sponsor science-based therapy

As the father of three young children, James Hodgson knows that young people are the future of the community. As the health promotions director at East Side Athletic Club in Clackamas, he also knows the importance of getting children involved in an exercise program, particularly if they are at risk for diabetes or other conditions.

PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - James Hodgson, health promotions director at East Side Athletic Club, works with one of the participants in the Fit4Me program during a recent training session. That is why East Side Athletic Club and Hodgson developed Fit4Me, a program aimed at children who have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Hodgson reached out to staff at Kaiser Permanente about prevention type programs and Kaiser agreed to partner in the project and provide some funding.

With nine participants ranging in age from 10 to 16, Fit4Me started Oct. 2 and will continue for six months. The group meets weekly at East Side Athletic Club, and individuals come back one or several additional days in the week to continue the workout.

Because Hodgson knows how important it is to engage families in the process of a successful exercise program, the participants and both parents are given a free, six-month membership to the athletic club.

More getting disease

"Diabetes in this country is spiraling out of control. We believe that starving this horrific disease of newcomers, kids particularly, is something that not just should happen, but it has to happen now," said Terri Gilreath, East Side Athletic Clubs owner and vice president.

Both Hodgson and Gilreath noted that diabetes imposes financial hardships on the country's health system but also creates devastating health crises for individuals and their families.

"East Side is a family-focused facility, therefore tackling this epidemic through prevention at the youth level is right up our alley," Gilreath said, noting that the athletic club has insured its full-time employees through Kaiser's medical and dental plan for more than 25 years.

"We are true believers in Kaiser's mantra of 'Thrive,' and to thrive, kids today need opportunity and support," she said.

"They can achieve almost anything if taught the how, the why, and are held accountable for their own behaviors."

Hodgson noted that students take P.E. in school because they have to, and may be involved in sports, but "what we are telling them is the why they need to do something or not do something."

He added, "Some people's [medical problems] start in their 20s, so they need to learn now to make the right choices."

Success, education

Gilreath said that Hodgson was relocated from their downtown club to their Clackamas Club in order to expand the reach of the facility into the community.

"In his first 60 days, we asked that James spend considerable time researching existing programs specific to prevention and/or treatment of diabetes, exclusive of drug therapy. He was not able to find a partnership like this one, nor bricks-and-mortar facilities that sponsored an activity-based therapy for kids who were dangling on the edge of diabetes," Gilreath said.

"Knowing that diabetes is exploding, yet not finding multiple active solutions for behavior change was a bit disheartening," she said.

Hodgson has a degree in exercise and sports science from Oregon State University and said he has always wanted to use his job in a way to benefit the community.

Working with the young people in Fit4Me, his goal is to "set them up for success. I want them to be strong, independent, smart, healthy and fit."

He added, "I am passionate about exercise, and I want to teach them everything I know. I want them to listen to their body. The main thing is to educate."

"James has this ability to be compassionate while at the same time being a motivator, educator and mentor. He relates to the kids; he makes fitness fun," Gilreath said.

"He praises his students regularly and also provides subtle coaching when their accountability waivers. He loves fitness and loves sharing life-changing experiences."

Fit4Me routine

The Fit4Me program at East Side Athletic Club deals mainly with the exercise routines that Hodgson devises.

Kaiser provides the nutrition and diet component, and the participants' own Kaiser doctors determined that they were pre-diabetic based on blood-sugar levels and other factors, Hodgson said.

The first meeting of the program was devoted to introductions and orientation, and it was then that Hodgson talked to the students about diabetes.

"I told them that once people are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes their life expectancy reduces by 12 years. I try to motivate them, so they won't get to that point," he said.

"I try to get them excited about exercise. It is a fantastic way to build self-confidence."

When the participants met for the second time, Hodgson began with a group-training session.

Since then they have been coming in and working out on cardio machines to warm up; and then Hodgson begins a new session, and at that point can work one-on-one with participants.

Parents also are invited to either work out with the group or can continue on cardio machines.

As they learn new exercises, participants are given a workout-homework assignment and encouraged to come back to the gym at least one other time during the week to practice that exercise.

Hodgson also encourages the youths and their parents to take classes at the club to add to their workout routine.

All the participants are weighed once a month so that Hodgson can track their journey to a healthy goal weight, he said.

"This program provides the opportunity factor, in that each child is exposed to various forms of cardio and strength exercises and is taught how to take his/her fitness program home as well," Gilreath said.

"Support is delivered through on-site coaching here at the club, homework assignments and the inclusion of the whole family in the membership experience. Families that play together stay together, and get fit together, too."

Rewarding

"I've been amazed that they participated more than I expected. I love seeing people gain more confidence," Hodgson said. "I love seeing the smiles on kids' faces, when they let me know they did their homework."

As for the future of the program, Hodgson said at the end of the current six-month program he will show some results to Kaiser, and then hopes to start again with a whole new group.

He said he is thankful that Gilreath and Kaiser have supported Fit4Me.

"This program is science based, and I structure the workouts based on what science has shown does and does not work," Hodgson said. "I did the research and discovered there are no programs quite like this one, so we are hoping to share this with other athletic clubs and get sponsorships from insurance companies."

"Developing and implementing a program like Fit4Me is rewarding on a number of fronts," Gilreath said.

After more than 30 years at East Side Athletic, she said people often ask her what keeps her going.

"Simple answer ... watching the faces on these kids as they move, as they laugh and as they gain self-esteem minute by minute."

Work out

East Side Athletic Club is at 9100 S.E. Sunnyside Road, Clackamas.

Call 503-659-3846 for more information

The Fit4Me program is designed for children diagnosed as prediabetic by their Kaiser-based physicians.

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