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Mayor’s Council Emphasizes Importance Of Exercise For Mental & Physical Health

Heather Hausenblas (left) and Timothy Burrows (right) from the Mayor's Council on Fitness and Wellbeing speaking at Humana's third annual Clinical Town Hall.
Brendan Rivers
Heather Hausenblas (left) and Timothy Burrows (right) from the Mayor's Council on Fitness and Wellbeing speaking at Humana's third annual Clinical Town Hall.

The Mayor’s Council on Fitness and Wellbeing is partnering with organizations that promote exercise to try and improve the mental and physical health of Jacksonville residents.

“Our mission basically, very simply stated, is to improve the health and wellbeing of all residents through the promotion of lifelong physical activity,” announced Timothy Burrows, Executive Director of the Winston YMCA and Chair of the Mayor's Council on Fitness and Wellbeing (MCFWB). He and Heather Hausenblas, Associate Dean for the School of Applied Health Sciences and the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences at Jacksonville University and Vice-Chair of MCFWB, were speaking at Humana’s third annual Clinical Town Hall meeting at the University of North Florida on Thursday.

They were representing just one of several Jacksonville-area organizations, nonprofits and clinical partners gathered to discuss how to improve the overall health of Jacksonville residents 20 percent by 2020 and beyond, as outlined in Humana’s Bold Goal, which MCFWB adopted in October.

Over the past two years MCFWB, which pulls together leaders from the health and wellness community, has been in dialogue with Humana to try and understand mental health in Jacksonville. MCFWB’s mental health subcommittee had been trying to come up with an initiative to address the problem, and they eventually decided to rally behind Yoga 4 Change.

Yoga 4 Change, which has been around since 2014, uses yoga to try and improve the mental health of four at risk population groups: veterans, incarcerated individuals, vulnerable youth and people struggling with substance abuse. Hausenblas said over the past few years Yoga 4 Change has touched over 30,000 people in Jacksonville alone.

According to data collected by Yoga 4 Change, those individuals showed improvements in stress levels of 50 percent or better. Their moods were improved by at least 40 percent and their heart health improved, specifically their blood pressure and heart rate.

Hausenblas said a man named Alan provides a perfect example of what Yoga 4 Change is capable of.

Alan was incarcerated about three years ago. According to Hausenblas, this was probably the 30th time he had been arrested. He was suffering from substance abuse and was alienated from his family and his daughter.

In jail he was given a choice: go to anger management or do Yoga 4 Change.

“He chose Yoga 4 Change and it literally changed his life,” Hausenblas said. “Fast forward to now; he’s reconnected with his family and daughter, he’s in recovery and he’s now an instructor for the program.”

Now MCFWB wants to expand on Yoga 4 Change, which they say is clearly working.

“Yoga’s not for everybody. It does have a little bit of a stigma associated with it,” said Hausenblas. “So what we want to do is expand to a movement for change, whether it’s walking, running, biking… whatever it may be for the individual.”

“We also want to expand the measurements,” she went on to say. “Measurement is really at the heart of science and we need to understand, is this program working, what are the best measures for it?”

As part of MCFWB’s efforts to expand, they’re looking into the global health initiative Exercise is Medicine. “The premise behind it is if you were to capture all the health benefits of physical activity, put it into a capsule form, it would probably be the most powerful drug out there and it would almost be malpractice not to prescribe it,” said Hausenblas.

The end goal is to have physical activity level be assessed just like a vital sign when people visit their primary healthcare provider. The physician would ask their patient two simple questions:

  1. How many times are you exercising per week?
  2. What is the duration of that activity?

Based on that info the physician would be able to determine if the patient is meeting their physical activity guidelines. “If they’re meeting the guidelines that’s great. You don’t need to do anything with those individuals,” Hausenblas said. “If somebody is not, then they’re given an exercise prescription for health.”
Exercise is Medicine was implemented at Jacksonville University ten years ago under the direction of Dr. Carena Winters, one of the program’s leading experts. Currently, JU is the only university in North Florida with Exercise is Medicine on campus. But MCFWB has plans to take it to other academic institutions in the area.

According to Hausenblas, both Yoga 4 Change and Exercise is Medicine are free from the taxpayer's perspective. Yoga 4 Change is a nonprofit funded through donations and grants. Meanwhile, MCFWB is looking for partners and writing grants to get funding for Movement is Exercise.

Burrows and Hausenblas said the end goal of these collaborations is to get people to understand how important behavior and preventative care is to their health and wellbeing.

“We know 50 percent of our health is directly related to our behavior, what we’re doing and what we’re not doing,” Hausenblas said. “The top three being smoking, how much you move and your diet.”

“So if we can get people to move we know it’s going to prevent them from possibly getting many different types of diseases, and it also can be used as a very powerful treatment,” she said. “If somebody has some type of chronic disease we know that physical activity will help them get through that.”

Burrows and Hausenblas said anyone interested in the work being done should feel free to contact MCFWB by calling 904-255-7907. The council meets on the first Wednesday of each month from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. in room 851 of the Ed Ball Building at 214 N. Hogan St. in Jacksonville.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

Special Projects Producer Brendan Rivers joined WJCT News in August of 2018 after several years as a reporter and then News Director at Southern Stone Communications, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Daytona Beach area.