Professionals at Health First Pro-Health & Fitness Centers weigh in on the keys to disease prevention

From warding of diseases, to strengthening bones and controlling weight, to simply boosting your mood and outlook on life, there are few choices that you can make in your life that will carry as much impact as adopting a healthy lifestyle.

“The majority of health care dollars are spent on treating disease and dysfunction, yet many diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and obesity can be reversed or managed with a fitness and nutrition program. Studies show that people who are involved with a fitness and nutrition program suffer from less stress, take less medication and miss less days of work due to sickness,” says Jill Wattenbarger, a group fitness and personal training supervisor at Health First Pro Health & Fitness in Melbourne.

“With all of life’s conveniences, we have to create movement in order for the body to be as healthy as it possibly can be. Fitness and nutrition are essential for preventative health and longevity,” adds Suzanne Coullias, an ACE-certified personal trainer who holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

Wattenbarger and Coullias are just two of the many certified and degreed professionals at Health First Pro-Health & Fitness who help residents of the Space Coast achieve optimal health. Operated by Health First, there are four state-of-the-art Pro-Health & Fitness facilities located in Palm Bay, Melbourne, Viera and Merritt Island.

Suzanne Coullais, a personal trainer and fitness instructor at Health First Pro-Health & Fitness in Melbourne, helps members achieve their fitness goals.

With so much information available, deciphering the right fitness and nutrition program can easily become overwhelming. That’s where Health First Pro-Health & Fitness’s professionals can lend a hand.

“Many people get in the habit of coming to the gym and doing the same routine over and over again. Our bodies are very smart and they learn to adapt. The body will not work harder than it needs to,” explains Wattenbarger. “A personal trainer can create new programs that will challenge the body and change things up as necessary.”

“Personal training is just that — providing personalized training for a client’s specific needs,” adds Comfort Richardson, group fitness and personal training supervisor at the Merritt Island facility.

In Richardson’s role, she is responsible for matching up clients with a personal trainer based on the trainer’s education and strengths to ensure the client’s success in reaching his or her goals. She also coordinates small group training classes with 10 or less participants, which offers a more economical alternative to personal training.

“Small group training has become popular, in my opinion, because people enjoy the company and the competition of working out with others. Not only do these folks feel accountability to me, but also to their peers,” says Coullias, who leads small group training at the Melbourne facility.


Health First Pro-Health & Fitness is also known for offering unique, fun and motivating fitness classes tailored to various ages and fitness levels. These classes can help break up the monotony of treadmills, ellipticals and weights, and also increase range of motion.

Specifically, each of Health First Pro-Health & Fitness’s facilities offers everything from classes for kids to classes for seniors. Each facility also offers varied-leveled classes focused on specific fitness techniques, like Pilates or yoga. For individuals seeking a low-impact workout, Pro-Health’s Aquatic Fitness classes (not available in Palm Bay) tend to focus on stretch, flexibility and balance. And for class-takers ready for a high-energy workout, Zumba®, Group Cycling, Cardio Kickboxing and Dance Mania represent just a sample of options offered.

Jarrod Madara, a certified JeanieFit® Hip-Hop instructor since March 2012 who teaches Dance Mania classes on Merritt Island two-to-three times per week, has experienced firsthand the benefits of Health First Pro-Health’s fitness classes. Within eight months into his current role as an instructor, he lost 30 pounds and altered his eating habits, ultimately improving his quality of life. Today, he’s determined inspire others.

“I walk into the gym with pride and determination to bring something a little different, plus a great atmosphere to ensure my class members leave happy, a little worn out, but most of all with a feeling that it was worth their time,” says Madara, whose classes consists of choreographed dance routines to Latin, hip hop and pop music.

“If you push yourself to the limit, the next time around you’ll be able to go a little harder,” he continues. “You gain strength in your legs, and with all the extensions, you start feeling very loose while doing everyday activities. As long as you stretch on an everyday basis, you’ll notice an increased flexibility range.”

Michael Patete teaches Boot Camp classes that are available and beneficial for all types of individuals at the Merritt Island facility.

Boot Camps have also emerged as a popular fitness option in recent years, partly because of their social, yet competitive nature, and partly because they allow participants to lose weight and gain muscle fairly rapidly. Health First Pro-Health & Fitness offers limited-size Boot Camp classes that usually take place during early morning hours three times a week for four weeks. The camps focus on activities that promote endurance, strength, flexibility and coordination.

“Boot Camps are popular because participants get an intense, structured workout that flies by in no time,” says Michael Patete, a certified personal strength coach and boot camp instructor at the Merritt Island facility. “Anyone and everyone can benefit from boot camp classes – whether you’re a beginner or an expert. … The boot camps are only as hard as you make them.”


While fitness is certainly one part of the healthy-living equation, a proper diet is also an essential component.

Susie Bond, a Health First Pro-Health & Fitness registered and licensed nutritionist, stresses the importance of eating proper foods to ward off chronic diseases.

“Both nutritional deficiencies and excesses can contribute to disease states, and properly balanced nutrition plays a strong role in prevention,” says Susie Bond, a registered and licensed dietician and nutritionist at Health First Pro-Health & Fitness in Melbourne.

In Bond’s role, she primarily serves as a nutrition educator offering one-on-one consultations or group classes that help individuals make good food choices relating to medical conditions, goals and/or lifestyle considerations. And from those simply wishing to boost their energy or shed pounds, to those who have special dietary restrictions, to those suffering from nutrition-related diseases, nearly all types of individuals can benefit from her services.

“If you consume proper foods, your body will have all it needs to function properly and efficiently. On the other hand, if you eat a diet consisting of non-nutritious, empty-calorie foods, your body is going to lack essential tools, and can’t build, repair or maintain itself. The result is that your body will begin to break down and disease will develop,” says Bond.

The longstanding question remains, though: In today’s busy society, who has the time to prepare and cook a nutritious meal each night?

According to Bond, there’s good news – it’s not necessary to do so. “It’s simply a matter of making good choices, and selecting proper foods,” she says.

Bond points to a three-step formula for healthy eating. First, choose a source of protein, including meat, dairy, soy or legumes. Next, choose a whole grain. And third, choose a fruit or vegetable.

“A home-cooked meal of grilled chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli fits with this pattern, but so does a pack of tuna, a few whole-grain crackers and an apple!” says Bond.

While the New Year often begins with a fresh outlook and heightened motivation to begin a fitness and diet plan, all too often people become discouraged within a few months, perhaps because they’re not losing weight as quickly as they would like to. According to the Health First Pro-Health & Fitness professionals, though, the number on the scale certainly shouldn’t be the only factor for measuring success.

“Some people might see a loss in inches rather than weight,” explains Wattenbarger. “We also recommend taking girth measurements in various areas of the body to keep track of how many inches the person is losing.

“And sometimes becoming healthy includes measuring things we can’t necessarily see, like decrease in cholesterol levels, decrease in resting heart rate, increase in energy levels and increase in aerobic capacity,” she continues. “Even sleeping better at night is an added bonus.”

When measuring weight loss, though, it’s important to remember the age-old slogan: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Ideally, it is recommended that an individual only lose 1-2 pounds per week to keep weight off long term.

“So many people start off doing too much too soon and they become too sore or injured and then give up. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle should not be about being unbearably sore. It should be about increasing your quality of life, and this can be done with small changes in our daily habits.  It all comes down to moving more and eating less,” says Wattenbarger.

“Keep in mind, losing weight is not just about getting into a smaller-size pair of jeans. It is about living a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life and that does not happen overnight,” adds Richardson.

“Take baby steps by examining your daily routine,” continues Richardson. “Do you pack your lunch? Are you exercising at least 30 minutes a day? Are there non-nutritious snacks in your house? Do you belong to a support group you can meet with every week? These small approaches can make the bumps in the road less discouraging and certainly manageable.”

Professionals at Health First’s Pro-Health & Fitness can help its members stay motivated and healthy long after the shine of the New Year wears off. Here’s how:

  • New membership orientation. Each new member meets with a fitness professional to discuss goals and develop a program suited their individual needs.
  • Positive encouragement. Fitness professionals are always available while members are exercising to answer questions and offer positive encouragement.
  • Body composition and fitness testing. This complimentary service allows members to check their progress.
  • Group fitness programming. Included in the monthly membership fee, group fitness classes are designed to suit various ages and fitness levels.
  • Personal training. Individual and small group training is available.
  • On-site dietician and nutritionist. Available to answer any questions and offer support.
  • Monthly wellness lectures. Taught by fitness professionals, a dietitian and behavior specialist, monthly wellness lectures cover a variety of topics like healthy cooking and lowering cholesterol.
  • LivFit program. Organized by a dietician, this 15-week program incorporates exercise, nutrition and lifestyle changes to help achieve goals for weight loss and a healthier lifestyle. LivFit is offered twice a year in January and August.