Live Well's Prescription for A Better Life


Jul 05, 2018


During her time as a family doctor and a politician, Margaret MacDiarmid wasn't one for exercise. She labeled herself one of the most sedentary people you'd ever meet and spent most of her downtime playing the piano or reading in her comfortable chair.


However, after the former Liberal health minister of British Columbia was defeated in the 2013 elections, she decided it was finally time to reclaim her health and become part of the "exercise as medicine" movement. Now 60 years old, MacDiarmid also had a history of meningitis and breast cancer before her retirement and wanted to restore both her body and her soul, which had taken some battering thanks to a health researcher termination scandal she inherited the day she was appointed. She would still spend a few years after retiring going to her cabin, volunteering, offering peer counseling to cancer patients, and serving on the Vancouver Coastal Health Board.


While reading a story in the Vancouver Sun back in 2016, the former health minister learned about the Live Well Exercise Clinics, which have supervised physiology programs for people who want to prevent conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and programs for those who have certain health conditions and/or have already had a heart attack. At the time, MacDiarmid was not very active and it was the middle of a dark winter, so she fell in love with the idea that people could go to a Live Well clinic and get a lifestyle and exercise prescription that was individualized to them.


Since then, MacDiarmid has improved her health dramatically and is now able to walk a hilly golf course, ski downhill, and do other things she was unable to do before she discovered the clinics.


Live Well President and Founder Sara Hodson got the idea for the clinic chain when she was at a cardiac rehab facility. Her patients typically only used the facility for 12 to 24 weeks, and she noticed that less than 1 percent still exercised after they stopped their cardiac rehab programs. To increase access to exercise for these types of patients and others, she opened her first Live Well clinic in 2011, the first of its kind in Canada at the time. A second one opened in 2013, and more have since followed via franchising.


With "exercise as medicine" becoming a more popular idea in the medical establishment, up to 70 percent of Live Well's clients now come from doctor referrals. MacDiarmid notes that it's affordable at around $20 per session, so there's no reason for clients not to come. Doctors are informed of their patients' progress, including heart rates, body measurements, weight, exercise capacity and blood pressure, and clinic staff monitor vital signs during sessions. 

Sixty-five-year-old Grant Cameron, who had a heart attack two years ago, began his rehab at a Live Well clinic because he was on the wait list for the rehab center at his local hospital. Cameron had no symptoms or risk factors before his attack, so his doctors told him the best way to recover and prevent another attack was to exercise more. Now, the 65-year-old says he's in better shape than he was 20 years ago thanks to his Live Well sessions, and his wife also attends twice a week with him. 

Hodson said she realized from the start that she needed to design an education and exercise model that would keep clients invested, and current company statistics suggest she's hit her mark. They show an 84 percent retention rate at six months and a 73 percent retention rate at one year, which is around twice that of conventional fitness facilities. 

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