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Grey: From Fitness to Wellness: Changing How We Care for Our Body, Mind, and Soul


Bud Grey is Senior Vice President for Carilion Wellness


New Year’s resolutions often focus on improving our lifestyles. The calendar doesn’t hold us to a time to achieve wellness. Yet, May is “Physical Fitness and Sports Month,” an excellent time to reflect on how exercise has evolved in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Having worked in the “wellness” field for over 40 years, I’ve seen many trends to stay physically fit come and go. We’ve come a long way since Ellen DeGeneres quipped, “I am so unfamiliar with the gym, I call it James!”

When Carilion Clinic purchased the Roanoke Athletic Club (RAC) in 1983, it was a racquetball club – nothing more. Back then, wellness stood for fitness, which translated to expending calories to achieve your goals. Much has changed, and then again, much has remained the same. Gyms, fitness facilities, wellness centers -- regardless of the term of the day, their purpose has been to help people continuously improve the length and quality of their lives.

Group exercise classes are a staple of Carilion Wellness and similar facilities. At the height of the aerobics craze, classes were taught mainly by untrained instructors and retired fitness enthusiasts. Today’s instructors are highly qualified individuals with degrees or certifications. They combine a grasp of exercise, physiology, and kinesiology, ensuring you’re receiving professional guidance about getting and staying healthy. It’s a far cry from Jane Fonda in leg warmers teaching classes recorded on VHS tapes!

Racquetball facilities such as the RAC repurposed some of their courts for various programs, shut down, or became warehouses. I remember when the RAC anxiously awaited the arrival of our one new-fangled Lifecycle. Today, countless people have more sophisticated exercise equipment in their homes.

Around 10 years ago, a fundamental shift occurred in our approach to wellness. Many clinicians began prescribing exercise to help their patients improve their health and even speed healing from medical procedures. Patients certainly didn’t know what to do, especially those who’d been sedentary for much of their lives. The considered opinion among many was wellness or fitness was only for bodybuilders and marathoners. Yet, since doctors endorsed wellness as a tool for better health, patients were willing to give it a try, and much to their surprise, found it something they could do and even dare say enjoyed! In this past decade, we have had over 10,000 participants in our medically prescribed Fit Rx program.

The fitness industry has always offered programs for people who are determined to get and stay fit. Today, we focus on folks with conditions like Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, cancer and depression to enhance their recovery and their ability to live well with their conditions. Physical exercise is combined with mindfulness practices, stress relief, good nutrition, and other avenues to improve and extend health for our lifetimes. Witnessing a patient with a chronic disease transform physically and emotionally is a fantastic process for the participant and our Wellness employees.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, exercise trends leaned more toward utilizing the outdoors as venues to achieve fitness in mind and body. Like many other facilities since the start of the pandemic, Carilion Wellness has moved classes and programs outdoors when possible to comply with the pandemic’s protocols for masking and social distancing. No matter where you turn in our region, you can get healthy and improve your outlook on life as one-of-a-kind vistas unfold before you. Our region’s vivid landscape helps continue transforming our community into a leader in the health sciences, offering countless opportunities to be healthy and experience nature’s beauty at the same time.

Seeing the world’s fittest athletes can inspire us to achieve a heightened state of fitness personally. Many of us will turn to video screens to watch the Summer Olympics from Japan. Meantime, on Sunday, June 6, we’ll have some of the world’s best triathletes in Virginia’s Blue Ridge for the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3. Cheering on these athletes up close is an unforgettable experience. And if the competitions inspire you to improve your health, remember: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now!” It’s never too late to get started on the road to wellness.