Cover Story » Current Issue » Vol. 38

Paul Reilly and Active RX aim to turn back the clock

Frail. It’s a natural condition for most people as they age. It’s as inevitable as AARP membership cards and white hair, just another price for racking on the decades. But what if this assumption is wrong? What if we could physically change our bodies from frail and become hale? Could it be that we have an influence over our own physical well-being throughout our lives?

According to the American Journal of Medicine, “Older adults can significantly, and meaningfully, increase their strength and muscle mass with a regular program of resistance training.”

I had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman who believes that this very thing is possible and is working to make it happen every day. Paul Reilly, owner of ActiveRx in Westborough, was born in Rhode Island and has been a Westborough resident for seven years. He was educated at West Point, spent eight years in the Army and is a veteran of the First Gulf War. The 47-year-old took the time to sit down with me and tell me his story.

Paul ReillyPaul Reilly: When I left the service, I went into the medical device field and transitioned to Boston Scientific’s sales and marketing group, where I worked for 17 years. That’s what brought me back to New England; I’d been away for 24 years.

In 2012, I was notified that my job had been eliminated and I was laid off. Boston Scientific is an awesome company; their technology is life-saving. But in the context of my life, that notification couldn’t have been better. It allowed me to look around and decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I didn’t particularly want to get back on the corporate treadmill. I was determined to do what I loved. So I made a list of where my values are. Exercise science and human performance have always been fascinating to me ~ I played every sport as a kid.

At West Point, I played football. After I was injured, I transitioned from the football team to assistant strength coach. This is when I became enamored with how you make a human being stronger in a way that’s safe and healthy. I just loved this whole idea of strength training; it’s more than just a hobby to me.

So when I was transitioning from Boston Scientific, I wondered how I could get into the fitness industry in a way that’s different. The world does not need any more gyms; they’re all over the place, and I’m sure every one of them is probably fantastic.

One of the other things I felt I needed for personal satisfaction was for my work to make some kind of difference. I wanted to do something that had a tangible, measurable benefit; I wanted to “do good” for others. And for my family, I wanted ~ needed ~ to “do well.”

I thought, “There must be some way of doing well by doing good.”

So then, in another chapter of my very lucky life, my brother Pat connected me with his friend, Mike Hutta, the current chief operating officer of ActiveRx. Pat knew what I was looking for and told me, “Mike does what you want to do!”

And when I learned about ActiveRx, it satisfied so many different things that I was hoping to bring together in the second half of my professional life: to work in the fitness industry on a strength-oriented program and to be able to help these unbelievably deserving human beings ~ these older folks ~ to restore their function and strength and, ultimately, to maintain their independence.

All that came together in an almost magical way at a time in my life that couldn’t have been more opportune!

Active RxAt ActiveRx, first and foremost, our whole purpose is to try to help aging adults to regain the strength they’ve lost, to maintain the function they have and improve function they’ve lost; ultimately, to sustain or maintain their independence.

It’s very common knowledge that if you stay active as you age, the quality of life that you enjoy in your older years is better. It’s one thing to know that, but for many of us, execution is a challenge. As you age, you often have injuries; you often have chronic conditions that start to impede your ability to do the things you want to do.

As you lose those abilities, you become increasingly inactive, which contributes to deconditioning and, eventually, to a condition known as sarcopenia ~ the loss of muscle mass. This is a condition you see in many seniors. There’s also sarcopenic obesity, a condition where there’s a reduction in muscle surrounded by increase of fat.

One of the things that appealed to me about ActiveRx is that it’s based upon 30 years of research. Everything, from the concept that we can reverse the decline of aging to the specific things we do here ~ the machinery, the programming, the specific movements. All of it has been really researched by exercise scientists and proven to work. It’s not guesswork; it’s been exhaustively tested in labs.

The founders of the company were exercise scientists at Arizona State and Stanford universities. Dr. Wayne Phillips has been the leading intellectual in the world of exercise science specific to active aging, the understanding of the input of progressive resistance training’s impact on the aging process.

Matt Essex, a research assistant of Dr. Phillips, was struck by the paradox that, although they were discovering that the aging process could be reversed, there was no practical application of it. So out of frustration, he decided to start a company that would use what they learned in the lab and apply it in the real world to try to help people.

That’s the origin of ActiveRx. This facility, ActiveRx Westborough, is in many ways our flagship proof-of-concept for expansion in Southern New England states.

Active Rx Yoga

Vitality: What brings clients to your door?

PR: Each person has a story. I love getting to know them and learning these stories and facilitating our clients’ return to health. It seems magical and is so rewarding! At staff meetings, we discuss the progress of clients as a clinical team. Each one has such an inspiring story that after 90 minutes, we’re only half through. That’s how excited we are in telling these stories.

Lots of folks come to us with a prescription from a physician stating, “evaluate, treat and repair [some specific] damage.” Twenty to 25 percent arrive with prescriptions, the result of an injury or rehabilitation.

The average age of our clients is 75 and [ages] range from 57 to 94. The 60s, 70s and 80s are all about evenly represented. Interestingly, we are seeing more and more younger folks coming in. Many folks who are 55 and up are simply uncomfortable in gyms and crave something different.

We are well-supported by Medicare and most private insurance companies. This is particularly true of the physical therapy side of the business. Many insurance companies also offer their members a subsidy to offset the cost of their fitness memberships. We have had most of our members get anywhere from $150 to $400.

We look at the client’s holistic strength ~ any injuries or previous limitations that led to deconditioning. To think they’re going into a strengthening program without the bridge of care by a licensed physical therapist is probably optimistic and, perhaps, dangerous.

We strictly adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, the principle of “first, do no harm.”

We also maintain a no-pain zone. This is a place where we do not introduce more pain into the lives of people already dealing with chronic pain.

Other clients respond to the message of hope. This seemingly inexorable decline, loss of function and inevitable loss of independence isn’t any of those things ~ neither inexorable nor inevitable.

We’ve proven with 30 years of research that we can reverse it, not just slow it down. We can turn back the clock. Three or four months of participation in our program makes patients feel 10 years younger.

V: Let’s talk about mind and body; I’ve got to suspect that mental state is critical.

PR: There’s strong evidence in scientific literature to support the notion that exercise has a salutary effect on mental frame of mind. We have at least a dozen folks who have come to us suffering from one form or another of mental or spiritual malaise. Many are on medication for it.

We had a lady inform us yesterday that, under guidance of her doctor, she hadn’t taken her depression medication in two weeks. She told me, “I feel awesome! I have to keep coming here because I hated my medication and what it was doing to me!”

To be clear, though, we don’t advocate any adjustments to medication without doctor consultation.

V: Throughout our talk, you have mentioned your staff. Could you tell me a bit more about them and, perhaps, the future of ActiveRx in the New England?

PR: In the area, we’ve found no shortage of licensed or certified professionals. Many are attracted to working with us because of the high degree of one-on-one care and attention that we deliver to our patients and members. They really get to know these folks and form exceptionally strong bonds. It’s just another example of some of the magic of ActiveRx.

The pace of our expansion will be hard to predict. As we get better known in the region, more investors will come forward and find this venture appealing. And I have plans to grow my own network of personally owned locations. I would estimate that within five years, we may have as many as 20 locations across Southern New England.

It’s a rare thing to meet and converse with someone as centered, eloquent and, well, passionate about theory and life as Paul Reilly. As we concluded our conversation, I was convinced that his sense of mission is something akin to religion.

And then, after we stepped out of his office into the bright and sunny studio, I saw ~ as he became wrapped in the appreciative embrace of one of his clients ~ that this is a man who has truly found his calling.

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