0822f46cfd4ae975-FITNESSAntonio Garreton receives an award certificate for teaching Zumba from Governor Baldacci
By Ramona du Houx

May 23, 2010

The ME First Program receives an award in the community area for its efforts to decrease obesity amongst state workers

Four chronic diseases cause seventy-five percent of deaths in Maine. They are cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes.

“All these diseases are influenced by preventable health hazards, particularly inactivity and poor nutrition,” said Governor John Baldacci at the Governor’s Council on Physical Activity awards ceremony. “What we do, how we live, impacts our health. These programs honored today make our people and economy stronger and healthier. It’s important that we establish and build upon successful models that make physical activity a basic part of all of our lives. I want to especially thank those recognized for their innovative approaches to meeting this goal.”

The top award winning community program had thirty-five people taken off their doctor’s list for a documented health risk – some were chronic diseases. The ME First Program started in 2008 with the rise of obesity and illness within State Government. Three hundred participants were randomly selected from a lottery system for the pilot phase. So far, participants collectively lost over 13,000 pounds.

There are eighteen gyms across state workers access with training and advise available.

The program consists of three phases: the weight loss goal phase, the life style change phase where the challenge is to keep the weight off, and the safety net phase of maintaining their health for life with less support.

Goals in the program include a hundred and fifty of the state workers reducing their body weight by at least 10%, a hundred of them reducing their body weight by 20%, and fifty participants reducing their body weight by 30%.

So far thirty of the participants have reached their goal weight.

“We work with the ME first program with their weightless and wellness programs. We have teaching classes and instruct those who request it, one on one,” said Jesse Wells, the lead fitness specialist for the Cumberland County YMCA.

An exciting component of becoming fit in today’s world is a new practical approach, called functional exercise.

“Functional exercise is a new area of exercise that is taking us away from the bodybuilding, image building, of the 1980’s. Functional exercise is really training for life,” said Wells. “It’s taking us back to our roots, of how our body works and how it functions best with an individuals life style. Anyone can make improvements if they want to feel better not just look better. It’s physical fitness for life.”

The YMCA community-based programs are designed to help everyone get fit according to their age and abilities. An added benefit is that the programs strengthen the community, by bringing everyone together.

“It’s really about building strong community as well as strong bodies. The comradely is great. Kids grow up together doing our community programs,” said Wells. “We have something for everyone like our small children day when all the kids exercising simultaneously. We work with the elderly with strength and wellness programs promoting not just how to exercise but having a lifestyle that works best for them.”

Another new approach to fitness has been the introduction of Zumba.

“Zumba is dance turned into fitness program, which started in Colombia,” said Antonio Garreton who received an award certificate. “I was in Washington D.C. and came to Maine six years ago, and since there wasn’t any Zumba here, I started teaching it.”

Garreton now has a dance studio in West Bath and teaches Zumba from Bath to Brunswick.

“It’s simple: nice happy music keeps you moving, and after an hour you get a great workout,” said Garreton.

Jessica Loney of Maine Midcoast Hospital works with Garrenton in hospital programs and said, “Tony is offering a lot of cultural diversity as well as dance. Sometimes he teaches in Spanish and a lot of people are picking up the language. He also makes Zumba appropriate for different age groups from young to old. And he’s introduced new community service projects.”

Other awards were presented for the outstanding role they play in supporting a healthy Maine through physical fitness and sports programs in eight different categories including youth-based, community and work place.

“If we could replicate what these people are doing in their communities across the state, the health of the people of Maine would be greatly enhanced,” said Dr. Eric Steel who co-chairs the Governor’s council for physical fitness.

The State has worked with local, regional, federal and private partners to improve health care across Maine and to focus on prevention efforts and healthy lifestyles. Recent achievements include better-coordinated public health activities, implementation of a Universal Wellness Initiative, and promoting activities through the Department of Conservation’s “Take it Outside” campaign.

“National reforms are only going to enhance the efforts that the people of Maine are already a part of,” said Baldacci. “Maine is very well positioned to take a leadership role on national healthcare issues, with the work being done by individuals, communities, and the state.”

The list of award recipients follows:

Youth – School Category – Kennebunk Elementary School, Kennebunk
Youth – Community Category – Cub Tracks Triathlon, EMMC/UMaine
Special Populations Category – Exercise and Conditioning for Easier Living (U-ExCel), University of New England, Biddeford
Community Category – State of Maine, ME First Program
Lifetime Achievement Category – Jim Lawler, Auburn
Healthy Workplace – Small Business Category – Valley Distributors, Inc., Oakland
Healthy Workplace – Medium Business Category (2 recipients) – Martin’s Point Health Care
Healthy Workplace – Large Business Category – MaineGeneral Medical Center, Augusta