MUSC’s Healthy Charleston Challenge

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MUSC’s Healthy Charleston Challenge




Guest:  Janis Newton - Education & Student Support/Student Wellness, MUSC  

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry, MUSC


Dr. Linda Austin:  Janis Newton is Program Director of MUSC Wellness Center, and has been Program Director, now, for two decades.  Janis, let’s talk about a favorite program of yours, which is?


Janis Newton:  The Healthy Charleston Challenge is a program that we initiated about one and half years ago, in response to the Governor’s Healthy South Carolina Challenge, to make South Carolina a healthier state.  So, we thought we would try it and see how we could impact Charleston.  And, who better to do it than MUSC, which is a leader in healthcare providers for the state?


We’ve developed a program which combines exercise, nutrition, and information on how to really change your lifestyle, permanently, to impact health, and prevent chronic disease, or help people who already have chronic disease.  It is a weight loss program, and it is a competition.  But, the focus, really, is on changing lifestyle habits.  We have teams, and each team has a trainer.  We have a program psychologist and physician, and exercise physiologists.  And, as Director, I facilitate these teams in their education process, and their commitment and focus on changing their lifestyle habits, which is not easy.  It treads on sacred ground for a lot of people, because it affects all areas of their lives.  And, it is a mindset, so there’s a lot of psychology involved.


Fortunately, for us, we have Josh Brown from Weight Management, who is our team and program psychologist.  And, we watch people compete.  But, the focus, like I said, is not so much on the competition, but on their personal process of changing their lifestyle.  And, the successes we’ve had, I’m really proud of.  For the first time in their lives, individuals are being honest with themselves enough to cross the barriers that have stopped them before.  They’re seeing changes in their blood-lipid profiles.  Their physicians are thrilled that they, finally, for once, are not only losing weight, but they’re getting off their blood pressure medications.  They no longer have high blood pressure.  Their cholesterol lowers. 


To qualify for the program, you have to be at least 25 pounds overweight.  Some people entering the program already have diabetes, and other health issues, so we have to watch them pretty closely.  And we have people coming back and thanking us for not needing as much insulin as they used to.  They’ve learned to love movement and fitness, and exercise, in their life, for the first time, some of them.


They come in thinking they know, already, how to eat, and what’s healthy.  And, for the most part, they do.  But they’ve never really applied all the principles that they can.  And, some of them, they don’t realize what impact that can have if they do it for a long period of time.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Walk us through the program.  What, exactly, are the pieces of the program, the components?


Janis Newton:  The first thing is to apply for the program.  Then, we go through the application process; not everybody is accepted into the program.  Part of that is, are you ready?  Some people want it, but they’re not really ready.  And we don’t accept anybody into the program that, truly, has not reached the stage of readiness the will enable them to make the commitment.  And it is a huge commitment.  Also, everybody is busy.  But we don’t accept that as an excuse.  It is not negotiable.  You will exercise.  You will eat healthy.  And you will be successful.  And, people resist that.  Everybody has an excuse, every day, as to why, maybe, they haven’t been able to fit it in. 


Being ready is extremely important.  Once we get our teams, we have meetings every Thursday night.  They meet with their trainers.  They have their nutrition education.  We have a program nutritionist.  And, it’s not industry standard nutrition.  This is the latest research in what is truly healthy, and what’s going to impact your health.  Then, we tweak it, for weight loss.


They work out with their trainer every week.  And, we have official weigh-ins.  We have a pretest and a post-test.  They’re pretested with several different body composition testing techniques, and then they’re post-tested.  So, we see huge losses in percent of body fat.  And we’re more interested in percent of body weight than we are actual pounds, because the pounds come off slowly.  But, they’re losing body fat, and their percent of body weight drops.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Do you have a BMI?  You said that you have to be at least 25 pounds overweight to qualify.  What BMI does that correspond to?


Janis Newton:  We do use BMI as a meter in measurement in our pre and post tests.  And, I simply ask, on the application, if they’re more than 25 pounds overweight.  And then, of course, I have to screen it.  I have their height and weight, and we can get their BMI from that.  And, most people do begin the program in the obese range.  There is no question that their BMI is in the unhealthy range.  But, I find that a lot of people applying for the program just need to lose their last ten pounds of excess weight.  They’re not really 25+ pounds overweight.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Now, you mentioned exercising every day.


Janis Newton:  Yes.


Dr. Linda Austin:  That’s a requirement?


Janis Newton:  We shoot for some kind of movement.  It doesn’t have to be an organized, long, workout.  We teach short workouts.  They can go home and walk around the block three times.  They can exercise ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon.  But, we don’t want them sitting at a desk for than so many minutes before they’re supposed to get up and march in place, do a few stretches, and sit back down.  I mean, we teach techniques that will, hopefully, keep their body moving throughout the whole day.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, it sounds like what is so wonderful about this program is that it takes principles that one could get, probably, at a variety of, say, some of the better doctor programs, but the extra component is the exercise, and the work with the trainer, and the work with the teams.


Janis Newton:  Yes.  Again, what we’re seeing is that camaraderie and group support is very important.  It’s one of the reasons our boot camp is so successful.  It’s the camaraderie and group dynamic.  We have that team component.  The teams work together.  They communicate every day.  And, they, sometimes, aren’t nice about it.  If one of their team members has missed a workout, they’re all over them.  And, that accountability, and camaraderie, I think, separates this program as well as the constant education and assistance with exercise and nutrition.


Dr. Linda Austin:  If somebody listening to this wants to go in for an evaluation, what number would they call, or how would they go about doing that?


Janis Newton:  They can go to our website for all the information about the Healthy Charleston Challenge.  And, of course, they can e-mail and call me personally.  I’ll give them all the assistance I can to get them into the program and help them in any way.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Janis, thanks so much.


Janis Newton:  Thank you.

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