Move towards better health with active living

We all have days when we don't want to get out of bed. But, for 61-year-old Marek Dzikowski, these days happen more often than not. Constant pain paralyzes his body, making five minutes feel like five hours. He struggles daily to walk. He can't sit for too long, but standing or lying down is not any easier. For a man who has been ballroom dancing for nearly 40 years, this new reality was devastating. Until, a hospital-based exercise program helped him get out of bed and back on his feet.

The Active Living Program at St. John's Rehab helps participants improve their strength, endurance, range of motion and balance, regardless of their age or fitness level.

The program helps people who are apprehensive about following their own exercise program at the community gym. Whether they are looking for a post-rehabilitation routine, a general exercise program to promote good health, or to improve their fitness level to prevent future injury, the innovative exercises used in the Active Living Program can be adapted to anyone's ability or motive.

For Marek, it was the complexities of his current physical state that brought him to the program. In 2008, he had his first hip surgery. Following inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, Marek was given the opportunity to continue to improve his range of motion, strength, and fitness in the comfort of the hospital setting, and with the expertise of St. John's Rehab staff members who understood his limitations.

"If you don't get up every morning, put yourself together, and try to deal with the pain, you aren't living your life," says Marek. "I will take every opportunity to exercise my body and exceed beyond the limits of my pain."

For one hour each week for eight weeks, participants work with Physiotherapist Assistants on a combination of exercises that target muscles and joints in the legs, arms and core. As a ballroom dancer, Marek recognized new limitations in his balance, and did basic activities such as squats and tandem exercises (placing one foot in front of the other) to improve.

"From walking, to reaching for items around the house, or getting in and out of the tub or shower safely, doing exercises that help improve balance can reduce the risk of falling and prevent further injury," says Jack Fraser, Physiotherapist Assistant and one of the leads for the Active Living Program. "This is particularly important for Marek because he wants to dance again."

But, improving balance and mobility are just few of the program's benefits.

The program is structured as a circuit, where a group of up to eight participants rotate through a series of stations. Participants are not only able to go through an effective full-body exercise class in a short amount of time, but they are also constantly moving; increasing their cardiovascular activity. Exercises, although very effective, are simple enough for participants to repeat at home.

Equally important is the peer motivation the group session inspires. Patients share their own stories of triumph, empowering others around them.

"Coming to the hospital and seeing people overcome worse circumstances than I have, also helped me psychologically," says Marek. "It made me realize that I need to deal with my pain and move on the best way I can."

As Marek completes the program, and continues to do exercises at home, he feels proud of what he has accomplished.

"The Active Living Program helped prepare my body for surgery. I know what my body is capable of, and I have faith that I will get there again."