Taking On U.S. Diabetes Problem One Workout at a Time

Steve Lichtman accepts award from Jamin Reda of the American Diabetes Association Credit Martha Hicks Leta

FT’s Steve Lichtman is the kind of guy who walks the walk when it comes to charitable causes. For the past several years he’s corralled the efforts of Fitness Together studios across New England to raise money and awareness for the American Diabetes Association’s Step Out Walk to Fight Diabetes. But in more important ways, he’s made it his business to show how he and others can dramatically improve the lives of people with type 2 diabetes.

For Lichtman, owner of four Fitness Together studios in Massachusetts, the idea that he might have the answer to our nation’s monumental diabetes problem did not come to him all at once, but over time, kind of like the extra weight that had once gathered around his middle.

Ten years ago, Lichtman was the typical stressed-out guy, traveling all over North America for his corporate training job, hunkering down in airports, conference rooms or motels, never having time to exercise or eat healthy food, all of which compounded his chronic back pain. Then his parents became ill and he had to spend more time travelling to help them, which compounded the worry and stress. “My blood pressure was high, my cholesterol was through the roof and I didn’t know it then, but I was also heading towards becoming diabetic.” When his back pain became so bad that he couldn’t deliver an important presentation, he knew he had to make some changes.

At the behest of his doctor, Lichtman went in search of a good personal trainer. The first two were duds, but he struck gold with the third. When that trainer opened his own Fitness Together studio, Lichtman followed.

Fast forward several years, when Lichtman himself became the proud owner of Fitness Together Studios in Dedham, Westborough, Norwell and Cohasset. He loved the one-on-one workout experience, and the fact that it had helped him with his back pain so much that he no longer needed pain meds. Seeing his parents succumb to their respective illnesses drove home the importance of having a good fitness program, and now he was making it his life’s work to provide that to others. But it soon became clear there was a growing population of the American public that, more than anyone, needed what his studios had to offer: type 2 diabetics.

“About 75% of the people coming to us at Fitness Together are looking to lose a good amount of weight,” Lichtman says. “But in the last few years it became evident that it wasn’t just obesity but problems that go along with it, and in particular type 2 diabetes.”

Partnering with the American Diabetes Association, Lichtman got to work developing a program for people with type 2 diabetes that combined strength and cardiovascular training with nutrition counseling, but he wanted to be sure it was really working. He got the support of other Fitness Together studios in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and enlisted the help of help of registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Joan Hill. The result was an observational study that would measure the impact of diet and exercise on diabetes control, high blood pressure, sense of wellbeing. Over the next 6 months, 34 study participants at Fitness Together studios throughout New England were weighed, measured and assessed. And then they were put on the program: 2-3 personal training sessions a week, cardio workouts and nutrition counseling. Their vital statistics were recorded every six weeks, their blood glucose levels monitored periodically by their doctors. They were also asked a series of 6 questions that compared their sense of well-being at the beginning and end of the 26 weeks. Six months later, 24 participants had successfully completed the program, all showing measurably improved numbers, with many even having their medications lowered as a result. (See next week’s blog for more details about the study.)

Lichtman says he hopes the study will help insurance companies and corporations see the value of programs such as this, but he says it’s going to be an uphill battle; people still think one-on-one training is an extravagant expense. But after seeing the study results, he doesn’t agree.

“I’m told the average cost to support a person with type 2 diabetes can be as high as $25,000 per year. So, over next 40 years it is going to cost the system over $1 million dollars for that one person alone. And yet, we can design a program for somebody that, over the next year or so, could help them lose that weight, get their blood sugar under control, lower their meds and stem the risk of heart disease for a heck of a lot less money. I’ve had doctors tell me that what we offer could very well be the most cost effective solution to this healthcare problem. And with our new small group personal training (2-4 people), local HR directors are happy because we now have a fitness program that everyone can afford. And when a company contributes to our program, the cost of a training session for their employees can be less than the cost of a doctor’s visit co-pay.”

Lichtman says that seeing how much the program helped other people inspired him to step up his own commitment to his fitness routine and the American Diabetes Association. In order to raise money for last year’s Step-Out Walk to Fight Diabetes, Steve pledged to walk, bike, kayak or run 200 miles through Fitness Together’s Cardio for a Cure program which raised over $54,000. “What really motivated me was when I saw people wanting to be part of the study. It meant something to them. I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it, too.’”

That motivation stayed with him. “I’ve since lost 21 pounds, I’ve reversed any past issues I had with cholesterol, high blood pressure and rising glucose levels. My body fat went from a high of 27% to below 18%. I haven’t been this lean and fit since I was 28 years old,” says the 55 year old. “Who would have thought that in setting out to help others who were worse off than I was, I’d end up helping myself?”

To speak with Steve Lichtman call 781-572-1002. To find out more about Fitness Together’s Type 2 Diabetes program go to ftsouthshore.com

To join the American Diabetes Associations Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes go to Step Out New England

To join a Fitness Together Type 2 Diabetes program in Cohasset call 781-383-8004. In Hingham call 781-749-2511. In Norwell call 781-659-0034 or go to FTGetsResults to find an FT Studio near you.

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Filed under Cardio For A Cure, Diabetes, Health, Step Out For A Cure, Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes Study

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