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STRH Wellness Center promotes exercise as treatment
Painted in large letters below the net in a full-size gymnasium are the words ‘Your Health is our Mission,’ a message borne out through everything that the South Texas Rural Health Wellness Center does for its clients each day.
Built in the fast-developing North Baylor Street area between Cotulla’s new elementary school and IH-35, between hotels, restaurants and La Salle County’s nutrition center and dialysis facility, the Alfredo Zamora Jr. Wellness Center occupies a large metal structure with few windows. Its name is emblazoned across the wall facing the street; a modest entryway faces east across a parking area. There is little on the building’s exterior to hint at what lies within.
In much the same way, the facility’s mission is to work on the inner wellbeing of its clients, regardless of age or condition, regardless of their abilities when they first visit, focusing entirely on their core strengths and health to help provide them not only with a better quality of life but also improved mobility and a workable understanding of how to look after themselves.
Equipped with a basketball and volleyball court, a spacious workout room, two exercise rooms, medical exam and consulting room and offices, the wellness center was built with grant funds and opened last summer with a goal of promoting the fitness and overall general health and wellbeing of the community. Admission is by physician referral from the South Texas Rural Health Clinic for a nominal fee or privately for $50 a month.
All those who make an appointment for an assessment and exercise training are met by administrator and certified exercise physiologist Adilem Garcia, who is also a fitness nutrition specialist and holds credentials in exercise medicine. She conducts evaluations on all clients and designs a personal warm-up, exercise session and workout specialized for each need, and follows through with continual assessment of the results achieved. Progress plans include return visits and, most importantly, advice on how to continue the health and exercise regimen beyond the confines of the gymnasium.
“We are a medical gym, rather than a fitness gym,” Garcia says of the facility. “We will give our clients the workout that they need, the training in flexibility and, in many cases, a return to active mobility that they were missing due to deteriorating health, but we are not a rehabilitation clinic. We are here for the overall wellbeing of our clients.”
Garcia is quick to acknowledge that the community’s population has a high percentage of diabetes, weight, and hypertension cases, and she believes that the clinic’s approach must be one of educating clients not only in what immediate steps to take in reviving their fitness but also in how to continue on a path to long-term wellbeing. In addition to exercise tips and techniques, she offers some nutrition education and helps clients access resources for professional information specific to their needs.
All clients are given a checkup that will help Garcia formulate a personal exercise plan. Each session takes about 45 minutes and includes a warm-up, stretches and a workout in whatever area is required that day. The session ends with more stretches in a cool-down period.
“Some of our clients come two or three times a week,” Garcia says. “Some are here more often, depending on what they are able to do and what is most convenient for them.”
In this way, Garcia is able to blend the exercise regimen into clients’ daily lives without it becoming a burden. Eventually, clients begin to view their better nutrition practices and their daily exercise as a matter of routine instead of an imposition or interruption. By personalizing the workouts and targeting specific dietary issues and practices for better wellbeing, Garcia is coaching her clients to live more healthily with realistic and manageable goals.
“We don’t focus on weight here,” she says, and reminds clients that the facility is not a weight-loss gymnasium, “but it’s an added bonus. If you focus on weight loss only, there can be a lot of bad effects, and you’re going to have difficulty keeping up with a plan like that. We focus instead on whole-body fitness and long-term wellness.
“What we want to achieve is to help people take the advice home,” she says. “We want people to make life modifications that make lasting change. This isn’t just a temporary fix. We want you to live better.”
Workouts in the exercise rooms and at the new machines with which the facility is equipped in abundance may include cardio-related work as well as workouts that target the upper or lower body and the core. The emphasis is not on a specific area such as shoulders or neck, but instead builds fitness throughout the body so that troublesome areas are eventually improved.
“It all depends on the patients, their fitness level, and what they can or cannot do,” Garcia says.
Ages of Garcia’s clients run the gamut from those in their 40s to some well into their 80s, but she welcomes younger clients and will happily serve those in their advanced years. Presently, the membership is a fifty-fifty mix of physician referrals from STRH and private clients.
Those who come to the wellness center from the clinic, where a physician will have recommended a specialized fitness program, will be put on a 12-week exercise schedule. These are what Garcia describes as established clients. Many are long-term local residents whose overall health has deteriorated with age and with progressing health challenges.
“We work directly with the clinic for these referrals,” Garcia says. “I’m going to maintain a monthly log of the exercises and the results accomplished. We compare these with our expectations and with the clients’ needs, and we can examine all of their medical charts so that we have a good understanding of their condition, whatever issues they may have. From there, we can make progress.”
The STRH Alfredo Zamora Jr. Wellness Center is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. All clients are seen by appointment only. Due to health and safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, appointments are made for only one person at a time, unless two clients live in the same household or give consent to exercise together.
“We are using exercise as a medicine here,” Garcia says. “This is part of a patient’s overall treatment plan.”