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Picture of Anna Mills standing in a gym room, wearing a mask, and looking at the camera
Picture of Anna Mills standing in a gym room, wearing a mask, and looking at the camera

Mountain Hearts exercise specialist helps patients better themselves through cardiopulmonary rehabilitation internship

Exercise is medicine.

That single sentence completely changed the way Anna Mills approached the concept of exercise.

Mills heard that same message repeatedly from her Appalachian State University clinical exercise physiology professor, but it wasn't until she landed a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation internship with Ashe Memorial Hospital clinical exercise physiologist Marc Boston that Mills began to really see the truth behind those three words.

"It's a simple thing that can help so greatly with chronic disease," says Mills. "I thought that was wild. Exercise can help in multiple aspects of patients' daily lives and improve their quality of life. I love that."

Mills began her cardiopulmonary rehabilitation internship in January. As an intern, Mills helps take patients' blood pressure, record heart rates and oxygen levels, conducts telemetry monitoring and adjusts patients' exercise prescriptions, among other tasks.

"I hope these experiences will help her smoothly transition into her clinical rotations in Boone and give her a high confidence level," says Boston.

Additionally, Boston has helped educate Mills on the ins and outs of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, what all is involved and the different treatment plans available for patients.

"I think the biggest thing I've learned so far is the exercise prescription aspect of it," says Mills. "He's kind of shown me different aspects of everything, including what type of exercise to prescribe in terms of anaerobic versus aerobic. That's been really big for me."

Initially, Mills thought the patients would be put through a rigorous exercise regimen. She quickly learned that each exercise prescription is geared toward the patient's personal goals and how they are feeling before and after each session.

"I like easing the patients into their exercise because a lot of them don't know how to handle exercise the first time," says Mills. "The patients are so determined to better themselves. It's so amazing to me, and that's a big reason why I wanted to go into this field. The patients are actively seeking a better life."

Mills plans to continue her internship, which runs Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., through May.

A former cross country and track athlete, Mills is in her first year of an exercise physiology Master's program with a clinical concentration, having earned her Bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2020. Mills opted to go the clinical route rather than athletic training after discovering an interest in rehabilitation, specifically cardiology and pulmonary.

In addition to completing her internship, Mills also works at Mountain Hearts as an exercise specialist. Looking to gain some real-world experience, Mills began searching for wellness centers in the area and started as an intern in the summer of 2019 before moving to her current role.

"I love all of the people here," says Mills. "I think you need to know all areas of the field, and this is just another place to do that. I like the gym aspect of it and being able to help people use the equipment when I need to."