How “Exercise is Medicine” helps patients meet healthy lifestyle goals – UAB News

UAB’s Exercise is Medicine program aims to help patients prevent chronic problems before they start and adopt healthier lifestyles.

Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Anna Jones

Exercise is Med StreamJeremy Pritchett, his wife Sarah and their two sonsJeremy Pritchett was thinking mostly about his kidneys when he visited Sumayah Abed, M.D., a practitioner at the UAB Medicine Hoover clinic and assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. He had just had a kidney stone and Abed was running follow-up tests.

In talking with Abed, Pritchett realized he wanted to be in better shape — stronger both for himself and for his family. At the time, Pritchett’s wife, Sarah, was pregnant with their second child.

“Part of my motivation, around the time I started seeing Dr. Abed, was that I did not like how I felt trying to play with my older son, who is 4 years old,” Pritchett said. “I didn’t feel like I had enough energy, and I knew I would only need more as our second child came along. I wanted to make changes to keep up with them and enjoy things with them long-term.”

Abed referred him to the Fitness, Lifestyle and Optimal Wellness Program, designed for patients who want to take steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

In the FLOW program, patients meet with a provider for a thorough evaluation. Doctors examine the patient’s health history, physical activity level, diet, sleep quality, stress, personality traits, blood metabolic panels, body composition, metabolic rates and cardiac fitness. Based on these results, providers recommend resources and design a personalized plan for each patient, including educational, dietary and exercise programs.

While exploring his options in the program, Pritchett found that utilizing the “Exercise is Medicine” program was the best fit for him. “Exercise is Medicine” is a partnership with the Birmingham YMCA where patients receive a free two-month membership to the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, allowing them to visit any YMCA in the region and meet with a personal trainer to develop a consistent exercise plan.

Dan Pile, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, says preventive health measures like the Exercise is Medicine program are key components of the YMCA’s mission.

“As part of the public health system, we are uniquely positioned to confront health inequities by partnering with UAB Medicine,” Pile said. “When we receive a medical referral, we know we will be working alongside individuals who need a great deal of support.”

Pritchett started his complimentary YMCA membership during summer of 2021 after Ian McKeag, M.D., assistant professor and director of the Family and Community Medicine Sports and Exercise Medicine Fellowship, developed a weight loss and exercise plan, setting goals for weight loss and muscle building.

Pritchett started going to the YMCA three times a week and has not stopped. He is now a member at the YMCA.

“It worked,” Pritchett said. “I grew up playing sports and ran and lifted weights at times, but I had gotten into a longer rut than usual. The team introduced me to high-intensity interval training, and I go with a friend on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays early in the morning.”

Pritchett lost about 36 pounds, meeting his goal weight. He started meeting with clinical dietitian Caroline Cohen, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., assistant professor in family and community medicine, to talk about dietary choices.

“Having the support from each of the doctors has positively impacted my health and wellness. It helps having someone to encourage you when things get difficult and to let you know when you are doing well,” Pritchett said. “Having that positive reinforcement really keeps you motivated.”

Approximately 50 patients have enrolled in the program, which is being piloted out of the family medicine clinic at UAB Hospital Highlands and aims to help patients facing chronic illness and prevent chronic problems before they start. Both the Exercise is Medicine and FLOW programs are part of the UAB Grand Challenge, which supports projects tackling large, complex programs, including Live HealthSmart, the Healthy Alabama 2030 initiative aimed at raising the state’s health care rankings.

Clinical services are available for patients of all ages in the Family Medicine Faculty Clinic.
Schedule an appointment by calling 205-934-9700 or visiting their website,