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Redefining abilities through wellness: the past five years of Get FIT have seen participants adopt healthy lifestyles in the comfort of their home, learn gym etiquette so that they may access local fitness centers, and transform their acquired skills into community-based lifestyle and employment opportunities.

"If I can do it, you can do it, too. There's nothing you can't do with Get FIT. You need patience, dedication and moderation. Instead of eating junk food, you can go grab an apple or a banana, or go for a walk; instead of just thinking about eating."

--Laura C.

Weighing 208 lbs. in 2009, Laura was excited when she had the opportunity to register for a fitness program that could be tailored specifically for herself. Laura was experiencing back pain. She also has cerebral palsy. Having CP reduced the number of opportunities Laura had to participate in community based recreational activities. Fearing that her back pain would worsen, or that she would become diabetic, Laura worked with her Get FIT trainer to develop a goal of losing 60 lbs. in 12 months. Laura's story is one of many that points to the positive impact of adopting a healthier lifestyle for an individual with a disability.

Get FIT features 10 to 14 week programs that combine fitness classes, nutritional guidance and lifestyle advice for individuals with disabilities and their family caregivers. Launched in 2008 by The Family Resource Network (FRN), with funding from The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Get FIT model has sparked a national movement discussing the health and wellness needs of individuals with disabilities.

As a leading statewide provider of family support services in New Jersey, FRN served 28,955 individuals in 2011 and was in the prime position to lead this innovative journey to wellness. FRN recognized that the goal of Get FIT was not simply to encourage everyone to go to the gym and lose weight but, rather, to create a supportive environment that openly discussed and achieved wellness for people with disabilities and their caregivers. The 'FIT' in Get FIT is the acronym for "fitness, integration, and training". Get FIT trainers challenge stereotypes and perceived barriers by motivating participants to set and achieve their own Get FIT goals in any setting. Using a holistic approach, Get FIT focuses on all aspects of an individual's life impacting his or her health; this includes physical, emotional, environmental and social support systems. Get FIT empowers the individuals so that they are in control of their own journey to wellness and motivated and supported by their Get FIT goals, Get FIT team and Get FIT family members. Allowing each individual to develop their own Get FIT goal creates an opportunity for their thealth and wellness skills to grow and transform throughout the lifecourse journey.

Starting at the beginning: Get FIT @ School

With childhood obesity on the rise, preventing obesity has become as important as reversing obesity. Childhood obesity has received national attention with school-based programs aiming to significantly reduce childhood obesity. Children with disabilities have a 38% higher rate of obesity in comparison to children without disabilities. Despite this, few programs or initiatives provide guidelines to provide children with disabilities with appropriate and tailored plans to fit their daily life needs. After a caregiver requested, "bring Get FIT to where our children already are, in a way that can fit into activities of daily living", we developed a school based program. Get FIT @ School has launched its first location in Lambertville, NJ. Get FIT @ School assists classroom and physical education teachers with creating structured programs that can increase physical activity and/or improve nutrition, both in school and at home for students of all abilities. Developing healthy habits starts during childhood, however these habits must be tailored, adapted and enhanced as one transitions from childhood to adulthood.

Transforming Attitudes: Get FIT @ College

Laura participated in the 12 week Get FIT @ College program, hosted by Rowan University, with external support from her family, "(my grandparents) kicked the junk food out of the house. If they do have junk food in the house, I don't eat it, and they try not to eat it." After a year of Get FIT, Laura's attitude towards her health transformed; she achieved her goal of losing 60 pounds, and continues to actively participate in Get FIT programs and community based workshops with the support and motivation from her friends at FRN and family members. In the fall of 2008, FRN brought Get FIT programs to Gloucester and Cumberland County through a partnership with Rowan University. This two-tiered program provides fitness services for people with disabilities in Southern NJ counties, while also providing disability sensitivity training to Rowan students in the Department of Nutrition and the Exercise and Health Department. Get FIT core competencies have since been integrated into the Rowan exercise science and physiology curriculum, ensuring that efficient health and wellness services are provided for people of all abilities in a manner that is respectful and protects the integrity of the individual. Recognizing that provider and community attitudes are the real disability, Get FIT @ College has trained 329 students to provide Get FIT services both at the Rowan Campus Fitness Center and the Cumberland Arc, with funding in part from The Horizon Foundation of New Jersey. Rowan University students are also trained to provide motivational interviewing as a method to conduct one-on-one nutritional counseling sessions with individuals with disabilities. An introductory training for Get FIT @ College is currently available for direct support professionals as a learning module within The College of Direct Supports. This year, Get FIT @ College will also be expanded to The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, serving residents in the Cape May and Atlantic counties.

Creating Supportive Environments: Get FIT @ Home

Acknowledging that many of our health behaviors are adopted at home, Get FIT has implemented home-based programs through its partnership with Hometown Trainers. Get FIT @ Home presents an opportunity for the whole family to participate in the transformation of health behaviors through learning how to incorporate physical activity into daily family schedules, creating well balanced family style menus and taking trips to the local grocery store. The Get FIT @ Home model has also been implemented in Texas, in partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas, with funding from the Texas Council on Developmental Disabilities (TCDD). These 12-week programs occur in the home or group home and allow participants to select an activity of choice. This allows participants to learn new recreational activities, one-on-one with their Get FIT trainer, while building the confidence to participate in community based recreation activities at the conclusion of their program.

Through Get FIT @ Texas, Sarah, who has epilepsy and was suffering from depression at the beginning of the program, was able to control her seizures, make new friends, increase her self confidence, and lose three inches off her waist and two inches off her hips by the end of the program. Get FIT Wellness Specialist, Ryan, shares, "She was a completely different person after just four weeks. Sarah was full of life and energy and was no longer having seizures. Every time I came to see her she was smiling from ear to ear and was a joy to be around. Sarah showed not only improvements physically, but I could also tell that she had gained confidence in herself through the program." Get FIT @ Texas will continue to be funded in its second year by TCDD and will be expanding services to additional cities within Texas. The success of replicating Get FIT @ Home in Texas has prompted Mississippi, Florida, and Maryland to pursue possible Get FIT partnerships as well. We are looking forward to launching Get FIT @ Mississippi's first program in the fall, in partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation of Mississippi. There is a dire need for such a program, as obesity rates in Mississippi continue to be among the highest in the nation.

Enhancing Community Involvement: Get FIT @ Gym

While popular gym franchises are promoting their 'judgment free' models welcoming people of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness expertise, Get FIT aims to ensure that an accessible gym is truly accessible for all. This level of accessibility goes beyond the physical set up of the gym as it addresses physical and attitudinal barriers, stigma, stereotypes, and a chronic lack of opportunity. Get FIT partnered with VOLT Fitness in Glenn Rock, New Jersey to provide Get FIT services to children with disabilities and their caregivers. The unique set up of VOLT includes a traditional gym on one half of the room and a kids' fitness circuit on the other half. Caregivers are able to work one-on-one with a personal trainer or exercise independently, while their children exercise one-on-one with a trainer at the VOLT fitness circuit that combines video games with exercise equipment. The VOLT kids' fitness circuit works especially well with children with autism, as the video game aspect of the program aids with increasing motivation and maintaining interest in the fitness activity. Due to training of VOLT on disability sensitivity, the adult side of the gym also promotes an environment that welcomes integration and true accessibility.

Recently, FRN partnered with the YMCA of Salem County to implement Get FIT @ YMCA, with funding from the Salem Health & Wellness Foundation. The 14-week program provided full access to the YMCA facilities with participant-caregiver paired activities such as "exer-gaming", group fitness cardio, muscle conditioning, yoga breathing exercises, stretch exercises, and aquatic exercises. A registered dietician from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension also provides nutrition education sessions to aid participants in making lifestyle changes. Iesha, a Salem County resident, participated in Get FIT @ YMCA during its first session. Upon starting Get FIT, Iesha had a positive attitude, telling her trainers, "I have multiple sclerosis, multiple sclerosis does not have me". A few months ago, Iesha was dependent on her walker and was unable to use the treadmill. However, after a few weeks of working on her strength, endurance, and balance with her Get FIT trainers, she required less mechanical support from her walker and was able to use her cane instead. Iesha now uses the treadmill regularly, and proudly said, "the other day I went to the store and forgot my cane. I was walking good!"

Beyond the Gym

With Get FIT programs operating in different settings, it has been important for The Family Resource Network to evaluate the success and achievement of program participants. Each Get FIT program includes two screening sessions; one at the beginning for baseline data, and one at the end for progress data. We believe that in order to motivate people to make changes to their health, it is important to make them aware of their health status and possible health risks. Since 2008, Get FIT has conducted 524 preventive health screenings on people with disabilities and caregivers. These screenings have identified health risks such as obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression and asthma, to name a few.

Get FIT encourages physician consent for each participant planning to join the program, as this often jumpstarts the conversation about a patient's general health. It was once said that, "the basic building block of good communication is the feeling that every human being is unique, and of value". Many times, physician visits are disability focused; however, Get FIT believes that any encounter with a health or service provider should be person focused. The Get FIT Statewide Coalition meets on a quarterly basis to discuss the goals and direction of Get FIT so that it may achieve a systems change. The Coalition includes representatives from the NJ State Health Department, insurance companies, disability service providing agencies, Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services, private health and wellness providers, the disability population, and the caregiving population.

Dan, who is a member of the Statewide Coalition, joined the movement through his interest in FRN's affiliate organization, Epilepsy Foundation of New Jersey. After he shared his story with us, we learned that Dan was diagnosed with epilepsy around the same time that he was training to become a State trooper. He initially passed all physical exams; however, after having a seizure, he was told by his physician that he could no longer train to be a State trooper and should avoid strenuous activities. Aiming to overcome stereotypes placed on him by his physician, Dan refocused his career and became a certified body transformation specialist (personal trainer). Dan reminds us that "self-esteem is huge. Just knowing that you can go work out and accomplish something gives you a boost of self-esteem, and that's really important. After working out, your body also releases endorphins and they make you feel happier. It just makes you feel better in general." Recognizing that there is a need for improved cultural competency within the medical field, Get FIT continues to advocate for people with disabilities by sharing program outcomes in presentations and workshops at state and national conferences.

On The Horizon

Get FIT is unique as it allows trainers and sites to create a program the best fits the culture of their environment. Get FIT is not just about losing weight, it is about how we live. While all Get FIT programs are not the same, you will notice a similar trend among them all. This is due in part to the Get FIT Kit, a program implementation tool kit that guides new partners through the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating a Get FIT program. FRN offers consultation and support services to all Get FIT programs to aid them in tailoring and adapting existing services to fit into the Get FIT model. The past five years of Get FIT have been exciting and full of growth. We have seen participants adopt healthy lifestyles in the comfort of their home, learn gym etiquette so that they may access local fitness centers, and transform their acquired skills into community-based lifestyle and employment opportunities. FRN looks forward to the future of Get FIT as it continues to grow at the national level, while preserving and promoting the health of all individuals irrespective of shape, size, level of fitness expertise or level of ability. As J. Keane so rightly stated, "Live authentically and savor each precious moment of your journey, because when you arrive at your destination, another journey begins."

Get FIT is an initiative of the Family Resource Network. Due to the limited accessibility and availability of health promotion services, Get FIT is dedicated to promoting full, happy, healthy, fit lives for people with disabilities and their family caregivers in New Jersey.

Visit www.getfitnj.org and connect with us at www.facebook.com/getfitnj to begin your Get FIT journey

BY ADEOLA SONAIKE, MPH, CHES
COPYRIGHT 2013 TCA EP World LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS & RECREATION
Author:Sonaike, Adeola
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2013
Words:2406
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