Reclaiming Their Lives

Written by Alison Johnson

After three months of regular exercise at LWell, a Yorktown, Virginia-based health and wellness center, former couch potato James Tugwell didn’t have a dramatic weight loss story: he’d shed a modest 11 pounds. He did, however, have a dramatic diabetes story.

Tugwell, 64, a Type 2 diabetic diagnosed in 2012, saw his blood sugar levels decease and stabilize, despite his continuing struggles with a sweet tooth. His energy and mood soared. He’s confident that if he keeps up his regimen of an hour of cardiovascular and strength training several days a week, he’ll be able to reduce the insulin and two prescription pills he takes daily.

“I just care about my life differently,” says Tugwell, a retired construction worker and truck driver who lives in Yorktown. “I had been lying on the couch, getting old and stiff and hurting, but these days I feel like I’ve got my life back.”  

Now, thanks to a $35,000 grant from CVS Caremark, a group of low-income patients from the Lackey Free Clinic in York County will get a chance to see if the same approach can work for them.

With the money, Lackey will partner with LWell on a wellness study to measure the clinical effects of strategic nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes on chronic health conditions, particularly diabetes. Twenty-one clinic patients, almost all diabetic, will go to the fitness club for eight weeks of free coaching and classes; Caroline Fornshell, LWell’s owner and the study’s leader, will then follow them for a year to provide additional support.

“Based on my experience, I’m very confident that we’ll get good outcomes,” says Fornshell, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer who has partnered with Lackey in the past. “We’re not going to starve people so they can lose weight fast, only to slowly gain it all back. People need a realistic lifestyle approach–one that gives the best health outcomes over time.”

LWell’s plans emphasize the prevention of age- and weight-related diseases, particularly diabetes. Offerings include exercise classes, nutritional advice, cooking courses, support groups and weekly weigh-in sessions. Staff will develop individual strategies for each Lackey patient—focusing on diet, fitness, sleep habits, stress reduction or some combination—and track lab data, such as blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, over time.

Lackey patients will mix with paying LWell clients during the eight-week period, says Carol Sale, the clinic’s executive director. “They won’t be identified to other members, or put into any separate group,” Sale says. “This is a terrific opportunity for them to fully engage in a community program that is very motivational. We’d love to build those kinds of partnerships with other agencies and businesses.”

The first round of data should be out in the early fall, Fornshell says, with the study continuing into next summer. For James Tugwell—a paying client, not a Lackey patient—the program had an impact on his diabetes within a month. “Everyone there shows a lot of concern, plus they’ll laugh with you,” he says. “You know they care, which makes all the difference.”

About the author

Alison Johnson

Alison Johnson is a freelance writer who specializes in feature stories on health, nutrition and fitness, as well as biographical profiles. A former full-time newspaper reporter, she has worked for two Virginia dailies and the Associated Press in Richmond. She lives in Yorktown, Va., with her husband and two sons.