GAINESVILLE, FL — A doctor's prescription will get patients into Gainesville Health and Fitness Center's Cancer Recovery Program, but the relationships that patients develop at the club often keep them coming back.

The Cancer Recovery Program helps patients improve musculoskeletal and functional limitations. At the beginning of the program, some patients aren't able to finish a six-minute walk test; however, by the end of the eight weeks, they're often on a treadmill for 30 minutes, according to Kristin Sario, personal trainer with the program.

The program provides the physical benefits of exercise, but it also gives patients a reason to leave their homes on a regular basis, something they might not otherwise have done, Sario said. Many of those who come in are newly diagnosed and depressed.

“We are just far enough outside the medical world that they can come in and talk to us,” She said. “It's very emotional. It proves that fitness/wellness and exercise can help as much on the mental aspect as on the physical for both people — trainers and clients.” In fact, Sario said that the smallest aspect of the cancer recovery program is the exercise.

“What we do for the client isn't just the exercise; it's the support and knowing they will be seeing the same staff members and knowing they will be encouraged,” she said.

Sario works with Vergie Shirah, a manual lymphatic drainage certified physical therapist and a member of the oncology section of the American Physical Therapy Association, to create personalized programs for the program participants.

The free, eight-week program, which began in November 2004, is divided into four, two-week components: strength training; cardiovascular training; flexibility and range of motion training; and mind and body training. Patients get a free, 30-minute session with a personal trainer and nutrition coach, both of whom have been trained in cancer and exercise. Once a program has been tailored for the individual, they come in to work out on their own, but meet with a staff member every two weeks. Patients are encouraged to continue with the program after the end of the eight-week period, but are required to purchase a membership to do so. At least two of the eight graduates have joined the club so far.

The program started after club staff noticed a lot of cancer patients at its sister company, Request Physical Therapy.

“We wanted to provide something for them for after their physical therapy,” Sario said. After researching other cancer/exercise programs, the club chose to be certified through the Cancer Wellfit program in Burbank, then adapted that idea to fit their own program.

The staff that work in the program have been trained in cancer recovery. The cost to the club is just a few more hours of pay, Sario said.

The program is a way for the club to reach out to the community and a way to bridge between the fitness center and Request Physical Therapy, Sario said.