Healthy Lifestyle Programs

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(Left) Sue Johnson and Julie Middleton. (Right) The Molong community embraced their fitness and wellbeing program.

Healthy lifestyle programs making big changes in regional communities

In 2005, Julie Middleton and Sue Johnson were sitting on the grassy slope of the local Canowindra pool, watching their children participate in the regular Friday night swimming club activities. As health professionals (Sue is a physiotherapist at the Canowindra Health Service and Julie a dietician), they noticed, with concern, the physical condition of many of the adults watching on from the sidelines.

“We thought, ‘how we can get the community more active?’” recalls Sue. “The mums and dads in the 30 to 50 age group. So we came up with Boot Camp.”

“Boot Camp”, as it was aptly named, was a regular intensive group fitness program, half land based and half pool based. The idea that training in a supportive group environment would provide an incentive to exercise proved a success – Julie and Sue found Boot Camp was so popular they had to run extra classes.

One of the great things about working in a regional area is the high level of community engagement. After Boot Camp had been running for a few years, a local Mason approached Julie in the main street.

“He said ‘Julie, we’ve been thinking at the Masons that it would be really good to do something for the health of the town and we want to work with you guys’,” Julie recalls. “So I went away and talked to Sue and the team and we came up with this idea of running a large scale community fitness and nutrition competition.”

Canowindra Health Service consists of a 20 bed public hospital and a comprehensive community health centre. The hospital provides 24 hour emergency care, with on call medical services. The area is serviced by two GPs and a health service staff of around 50.

With the support of the Masonic Lodge of Canowindra and the Canowindra Community Health team, Boot Camp evolved over into “Better Life Canowindra” – a ten week fitness and nutrition program in which teams and individuals competed against each other in the spirit of fun and good health. Stakeholders included the local GPs, other health professionals and the local pool manager.

Participants underwent pre and post fitness assessments and could join in numerous activities including Boot Camp, pole walking, twilight aqua aerobics and resistance training at the local hospital gym. Workshops on topics such as relaxation, portion control and women’s health issues were incorporated into the program. At a cost of just $12 for individuals (plus nominal fees such as gold coin entry to the hospital gym), the program was affordable, accessible and sustainable.

In 2008, 174 participants (8.7 % of targeted population) registered for the Better Life program in Canowindra, with all age groups from 18 to 80 years represented.

Sixty kilometres from Canowindra, at the northern end of Cabonne Shire, is Molong. Like Canowindra, Molong is a classic Australian country town with a wide main street, heritage buildings and a close-knit community. Here, similar holistic health and fitness programs are having positive impacts on community health.

Cheryn Johnson is employed at HealthOne Molong as a Health Education Fitness Leader. “My role is to provide information and to help people to learn how to live healthy lifestyles,” Cheryn explains. “I want to empower people so they can do it without me. Healthy lifestyle programs are a win-win for the whole community, including health agencies and government.”

Cheryn runs 14 different programs across Cabonne Shire including Molong, Cudal, Manildra, Yeoval and Cargo. A community nurse and dietician provide support. Programs cover fitness, diet and mental health issues and include aqua aerobics, yoga, pole walking and men only groups. “Better Health Better You”, for example, is a 6 week program Cheryn takes to each town, aimed at people at risk of developing chronic diseases.

“We had 30 people participate in Yeoval (population around 400), ranging from 20 to 70,” Cheryn says, clearly delighted. “The social aspect was great as it brought different age groups together within the community.”

“The experience and professionalism amongst health professionals out here is amazing,” Cheryn says. “They are extremely caring and multi-skilled. Country people are beautiful. They give you back so much more than you give. I find my job extremely rewarding.”

Julie Middleton in Canowindra believes working as a health professional in a regional town has provided her with opportunities to work outside the square and create programs such as Better Life. She says health professionals considering moving “Beyond the Range” and into regional NSW should jump at the opportunity.

“If you go to a small centre with a multi-disciplinary team, you’re going to have amazing support and mentors,” she says.” You will also find that people in your profession who work in regional areas tend to have really good relationships with each other and set ups to provide professional support. So I would say don’t be scared about it – just do it!”


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