fter undergoing open-heart surgery in the fall of 2015, Milly Saville’s pathway to recovery had only just begun. For Milly, an outgoing member of the Prince George, BC community and avid hiker, her next step was registering for a cardiac rehabilitation program at her local gym before she could get back to exploring the trails and parks nearby.

Physical activity after a major cardiac event can be dangerous. At her local YMCA, Milly was closely monitored by physiotherapists alongside a small group of participants who also suffered from heart conditions. “You’re given a stress test where you walk on a treadmill under the careful guidance of the physiotherapists to find out what you can do,” Milly explains. “They monitor your breathing and your ability to speak while you’re exercising. And then they just gradually take you past that level once you get into the program.”

Careful guidance from physiotherapists

Throughout the 10-week rehabilitation program that consisted of aerobic activities and weight training, physiotherapists helped Milly and her fellow participants safely and confidently increase their physical capabilities. The program, offered by the YMCA of Northern BC in partnership with the UBC Department of Physical Therapy and Northern Health, also included an educational component where participants learned about diet, blood pressure, and how to lead a healthy lifestyle. After the 10 weeks were up, Milly continued to receive oversight from physiotherapists in her post-program
maintenance and eventually integrated into the Y’s general fitness programming.

Milly now participates in regular aerobics classes, core strengthening activities, yoga classes, and also takes walks on the treadmill. “I go according to what I can handle,” explains Milly, who can now confidently manage her own fitness routine. “In the back of my mind, I’m always remembering what I was taught during rehab.” Milly is now a volunteer leader of a monthly cardiac support group in Prince George, where she helps encourage and motivate others going through rehabilitation.

Group support and motivation

At the YMCA, Milly still bumps into fellow program participants, as well as the physiotherapists and fitness instructors who also lead programming for the general public. She enjoys the sense of community and support that they established through their rehabilitation together. “We bonded through that program,” she says. “There’s a lot of ongoing interest in one another and our recoveries.”

Despite the group setting, physiotherapists are able to cater exercises and routines to each participant’s needs and interests, whether it’s getting back to work, completing chores around the home, or, like Milly, resuming a hiking routine. “You have input into your own program,” says Milly. “Your goals are taken into consideration. It’s not just, ‘Do this.’”

An inclusive atmosphere

Milly praises the YMCA’s welcoming atmosphere and supportive community for helping her along the path to recovery. She’s proud to visit the Y several times a week to take part in various classes. “I see people of every shape and size, whether they’re fit as a fiddle and keeping it that way, obese, or look like they can hardly walk when they come in,” she says. “There’s no sense of competition that I’ve seen at some other gyms, where you have to wear the right clothes or have a ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude. Everyone is welcome at the Y. It’s such an inclusive atmosphere.”