Tilton Fitness Management and Meridian Health, which includes six medical centers in New Jersey, have expanded their partnership to include five fitness centers in Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties.

Each will have 50 percent equity in the fitness and wellness centers, which will be managed by Tilton Fitness, said its president and owner, Sam Young, of Linwood.

The partnership is in line with health industry efforts to produce better outcomes at lower costs - in this case by helping people get fitter and healthier.

"The reimbursement models for hospitals, physicians and medical centers are changing. Providers are going to be held accountable for maintaining the health of a given population," Young said. "A big piece of that has to be wellness, preventive health and exercise, because you can't possibly maintain the health of a given population or seriously influence outcomes if you don't take a more holistic approach than an acute-care fix-up and send-out-the-door strategy."

Young said Meridian, under the leadership of President John K. Lloyd, has recognized the importance of embracing the wellness and exercise strategy.

"Meridian Health is committed to keeping people active and healthy here in our communities," Lloyd said in a statement. "Our shared focus on helping people maintain their health through personalized and supervised exercise and wellness programs is what sets our collaboration with Tilton apart from other fitness centers and gyms."

The partnership includes two existing Tilton Fitness centers in Atlantic County (in Northfield and Galloway Township); one in Stafford Township, southern Ocean County; and one in Hazlet, Monmouth County.

A new 32,000-square-foot center will open this winter in Meridian Health Village in Jackson, Ocean County.

The Tilton- Meridian relationship began in 2010 when the not-for-profit health-care organization acquired Southern Ocean County Hospital, which had partnered with Tilton on the Stafford Township fitness center since 2003, Young said.

In 2012, Meridian selected Tilton to manage and operate Meridian Fitness and Wellness in Hazlet.

Under the supervision of a medical advisory board, the centers will coordinate regularly with the hospitals on personalized exercise programs for patients and other services, Young said.

Some of the fitness centers are already staffed by nurses, and all will have a nurse, nutritionist or wellness coach, he said. The centers all have established relationships with physical therapists, most of them practicing within the centers.

Specific exercise programs are designed for patients with particular conditions or situations, such as arthritis, asthma, pre- and post-natal moms, cancer and diabetes.

Young said many of these diseases and conditions are lifestyle-related and can be affected by exercise.

"If we can keep people from elevating into that chronic disease status, there is significant money to be saved from a health-care perspective," he said. "We're part of a strategy trying to identify at-risk populations and bring them into the centers, and with expertise, physician oversight and clinical programming, we can get them active and using exercise as a prescription."

He said that many times, clients can reduce or eliminate medications as they get fitter and healthier.

"One woman was on 12 different medications when she came to us, and nine months later she was off all of them," Young said.

One key will be making exercise centers more welcoming to the whole population.

"Our industry is as much at fault as anybody. The last 20 years we've been building and operating health clubs that are intimidating to anyone but the healthy and fit," he said. "We've got to break down the barriers and create environments that are inviting."

The goal is a healthier population that needs fewer and less involved medical interventions.

"Another example is osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). That can not only be halted but can be reversed with resistance training," Young said.

"Exercise truly is medicine."

Contact Kevin Post:

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