ROCKINGHAM - Bobby Johnson enrolled in the FirstHealth Exercise is Medicine (EIM) program after his doctor told him he may not make it another year if he did not lose weight.
A resident of Rockingham, Johnson faced a number of health issues in June of 2020. He was hospitalized at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital (MRH) with sepsis, cellulitis and the onset of congestive heart failure.
“I actually died,” Johnson said. “They had to put me on a ventilator for two days and then I came around.”
As many as 110,000 deaths could be prevented per year if adults aged 40 to 85 increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by a small amount, a recent study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found. A team from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked on the research and estimated even a 10-minute daily increase would aid in death prevention.
Johnson’s experience in the hospital motivated him to make necessary lifestyle changes. He completed a few months of physical therapy and then enrolled in EIM to help with weight loss and mobility.
FirstHealth Exercise is Medicine is an eight-week program with classes twice a week. In partnership with their doctors, participants meet with an exercise specialist to develop and reach goals that will improve their health. The program is a good fit for individuals who do not currently get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, are at risk for chronic diseases or are currently dealing with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. It is also helpful for anyone who is new to exercise and needs assistance incorporating an exercise plan into their lifestyle.
Johnson said he was filled with a lot of doubt when he started the program, but he was determined to push through and improve his health. When he joined the eight-week program last September, he had been dependent on a wheelchair for six years. By the time Johnson graduated, he was down 45 pounds and no longer needed his wheelchair. He noticed exercise made a positive impact in other areas of his life, including better sleep, increased energy levels and improved mental health. Johnson said sticking to a consistent exercise regime improved his depression and mood so much he was able to be discharged from the behavioral health center he had been attending.
“I’m going all day now,” he said. “I’m not sitting around watching TV as much. The program really encouraged me and I felt welcome right away. The motivation and compliments really help your self-esteem and keeps you motivated.”
Ranina Henderson, an exercise technologist with FirstHealth Fitness – Richmond EIM, said Johnson’s resolve was key to his success in the program.
“What I saw within Bobby was determination,” she said. “He was there daily. The program is recommended twice a week, but he was there four to five days a week and he’s still determined today.”
Johnson continues to hit the gym at FirstHealth Fitness – Richmond multiple times a week. He usually walks four miles and does chair exercises with weights and elastic bands. Whether it’s a walk outside on a nice day or playing basketball, Johnson said he encourages others to find movement that is enjoyable to them. After years of working as a caretaker to sick family members, which consisted of being inside most days, he said he has come to enjoy the time spent exercising and taking care of himself.
“I never thought I would get to this point,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like a dream. My advice for anyone starting the program is to start small and keep working up to big goals. Let other people motivate you and don’t give up.”
FirstHealth Fitness offers Exercise is Medicine at all six locations. Individuals interested in EIM can book a free consultation with an exercise specialist or talk with their primary care doctor about getting an exercise prescription. To learn more, visit www.firsthealth.org/EIM.