​​Image of Lauren and Dana – gym
Lauren Jenkinson (left), Dana Davies’ ACCELERATION case manager, works with Dana (right) to set goals that are important to her and keep her on track with weekly program check-ins. (Photo: UHN)

When Dana Davies was 11 years old she lost her mom to breast cancer.

 At 25, she decided it was time to do everything possible to prevent getting the disease herself and had her first mammogram.

Dana knows she can't change her familial risk for breast cancer, so instead she's focused on the risk factors she can control.

That's why she enrolled in Toronto Rehab's ACCELERATION Program – the first-of-its-kind Canadian lifestyle program that uses behaviour modification to help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  

"It's really nice to feel like you have a hand in your own fate," says Dana, who is now 34. "Lifestyle has a huge impact on what happens to us. ACCELERATION allows me to change my lifestyle."​​

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Related to this story:

At least one lifestyle factor puts most Canadians at risk

The program's four main areas of focus for behaviour change are: increasing physical activity and exercise; improving diet; reducing or stopping smoking and keeping to Canada's low-risk drinking guidelines. Research shows that 95 per cent of Canadians have an issue with at least one of these behaviours and that the root of more chronic diseases is these four basic behaviours.

"The aim of ACCELERATION is change for the good – for better health and for the long-term," says Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director, Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehab and Principal Investigator, ACCELERATION.

"Similar behaviour modification is at the core of the cardiac rehab work we've been doing successfully for decades. We know the power this approach can have in preventing chronic disease and that it will impact our entire health-care system."

ACCELERATION—through funding from Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and Health Canada— launched in 2013 at four sites across Canada. So far, more than 500 participants at risk for various chronic diseases have enrolled in the program.

The initial research data shows participants' physical activity, on average, starts at about an hour a week and increases to an average of 2.5 hours by the end of the program. Similarly, at enrollment about 3 per cent of participants are eating five or more servings of fruits or vegetables each day and by the completion of the program, 30 per cent are complying.

Image of Dana and Lauren talk at table
Dana and Lauren work together to set and maintain goals, problem solve when necessary, and adjust the program to Dana's schedule and needs. (Photo: UHN)

Setting meaningful goals

Dana began the 12-week ACCELERATION Program in March 2015 – and it wasn't her first time working towards a healthy lifestyle. Unlike other trainers she has worked with, the program allowed her to set goals that were important to her.

"My goals were to exercise more consistently, balance my exercise with sleep and increase my veggie and fruit intake," says Dana.

Dana's scheduled is hectic and she was sacrificing sleep for exercise. She didn't have time allotted for preparing healthier foods.

"Having weekly check-ins allows for an opportunity to problem solve with the participants," says Lauren Jenkinson, Dana's ACCELERATION case manager.

"The program is good at problem solving," says Dana. "I was so determined to do the program that I was following it at all costs. Lauren helped me fit the program into my schedule without impacting my sleep."

Image of Dana and Lauren - working out
Dana started the program at high-risk for diabetes – after six months, her blood sugar values are within a healthy target, she's lost five pounds, and reduced her cholesterol level. (Photo: UHN)

Dana hits healthy lifestyle targets

When Dana began the program, she was at the fitness level of an average 57-year-old. After the three months, she shed 17 years and was at the fitness level of an average 40-year-old.

She also started the program at a high-risk for diabetes in addition to breast cancer. After six months, her blood sugar values are now within a healthy target. Dana also lost five pounds of fat and reduced her cholesterol level.

Dana has always been terrified of running so Lauren prescribed a walk/jog routine five times a week that is achievable and keeps her from getting bored.

She graduated from ACCELERATION in June 2015 and completed her six-month follow-up in early fall. She continues to keep up with the new lifestyle changes and has strategies to help avoid slipping up.

 "When I finish exercising, I feel good," reflects Dana. "It's an accomplishment."

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