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A member of the Wellness Institute lifts a dumbbell while a personal trainer supervises.

The study focused on about 11,000 members of the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital. // Photo: Wellness Institute

Membership at Wellness Institute associated with reduced risk of heart attack, stroke: UM study

May 2, 2024 — 

Being a member of the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital is associated with a reduced risk of having a “major adverse cardiovascular event” such as a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, a UM study shows.

And attending the facility more than once per week increases this positive association, the study found.

Researchers from the Max Rady College of Medicine at UM and the Chronic Disease Innovation Centre at Seven Oaks General Hospital collaborated on the data study, recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Many of the same researchers worked on a related study in 2021 showing that membership at a certified medical fitness facility like the Wellness Institute was associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality and hospitalization.

“This time, we focused on cardiovascular disease, which is a leading cause of hospitalization, disability and mortality worldwide,” said Dr. David Collister, assistant professor of internal medicine, who was the study’s principal investigator from UM.

“We wanted to examine whether attending a medical fitness facility was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events in adults. We also wanted to see whether attending the facility more often made a difference in this risk.”

The Wellness Institute is a not-for-profit medical fitness facility that offers a broad range of health, wellness and disease rehabilitation programs. Along with the Reh-Fit Centre, it’s one of two such facilities in Winnipeg.

These facilities incorporate more medical oversight, education and guidance than traditional fitness centres. Members have access to many forms of individual and group fitness training.

Members can also obtain personalized health assessments, wellness plans, education and coaching on other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, such as nutrition and chronic disease management.

The retrospective study reviewed anonymized health data from a 10-year period, 2005 to 2015, and focused on about 11,000 new adult members at the Wellness Institute who had not had a prior major adverse cardiovascular event.

The study compared the rates of heart attack, stroke or heart failure in this member group with the rates in a matched control group of more than 500,000 Winnipeggers who were not members of the facility.

The researchers were able to accomplish this by using members’ and non-members’ anonymized personal health identification numbers to track them in health databases housed at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy at UM.

The researchers were able to track the Wellness Institute members’ attendance patterns because members scan a membership card each time they enter the facility.

The study found that, compared with non-members, members had a 12 per cent lower risk of a major adverse cardiac event. Attending more frequently (more than once per week) was associated with a 23 per cent lower risk, compared with non-members.

The research team concluded that making medical fitness facilities accessible to more people, especially those at risk for cardiovascular disease, should be considered as a public health strategy.  

“Our study highlights that medical fitness facilities can be used to prevent cardiovascular disease in the general population,” said Collister. “More work is needed to demonstrate to governments that this would be a cost-effective strategy.”

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