The Strategy for Defense

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When Jim Hafley started the diabetes prevention program at the YMCA two years ago, he had recently been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and prescribed a twice-daily drug and blood sugar testing regimen. The drugs had unfortunate side effects that made Hafley determined to learn everything he could, so he could attack the problem rather than merely treat the symptoms of his disease.

Participants are able to improve the brain's ability to fight Parkinson's Disease through the program...

Participants are able to improve the brain’s ability to fight Parkinson’s Disease through the program…

During his research, he discovered the YMCA’s diabetes prevention program and decided it was a path to accomplish several of his long-term goals at once. He made an appointment and signed up for the next available opening.

“Eighty-six million people in the United States have pre-diabetic conditions,” says Megan Vermeer, Chronic Disease Management program director at North River YMCA’s Healthy Living Center. “Another 29 million are already diabetic.” Participants have seen success in dropping blood sugar and lowering their need for medication. In the past few years, 150 people have completed the program. But Hafley represents only one example of success in battling an array of chronic diseases that plague our community and even the nation.

“Our national office has taken a stand against chronic disease,” says Janet Dunn, president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga. “We are community-based, with facilities and a staff that are designed and trained for physical care. Two years ago the national office hired a medical director to take on the challenge of chronic disease.”

Since Dunn came to Chattanooga in 2012 the YMCA has introduced four major programs that address chronic disease in the community. The first one implemented was LiveStrong, a cancer treatment recovery program. The Diabetes Prevention Program and Pedaling 4 Parkinson’s came later. Recently, 4 Weeks to a Healthier You was introduced as a blood pressure management program.

At least a dozen people with Parkinson’s Disease are participating in Pedaling for Parkinson’s at North River. The program is for people ages 30-75 who have been diagnosed with idiopathic Parkinson’s, a disease caused by the breakdown of the nerve cells in the brain, and is for those who have received medical consent. Studies have shown, patients who spend 60 minutes three times per week, pedaling at 80-90 rpms, actually improve their brains’ ability to create new neural pathways.

“They show up every day,” says Vermeer. “They really inspire me.” The program is also used for some dementia patients. Vermeer thinks with programs like these, it would seem anyone affected would want to take advantage of them.

“We have to stop and think about what the obstacles are for the people who need these services,” says Dunn. “Things like mobility and cost affect whether or not a person can ac- cess the programs that might improve their quality of life and general health. Sometimes we can get around these obstacles.”

Program Director Megan Vermeer

Program Director Megan Vermeer

Among its other services, the Y brings a mobile biometric screening machine to many facilities. Morning Pointe Assisted Living provides a room each week for the diabetes prevention program. Changing habits is not easy says Vermeer. Hafley agrees.

“My group leader, Janet White, has a subtle but persuasive, no pressure method of teaching us how to master the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve the wellness goals in the program,” says Hafley.

“Because of the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program I lost 40 pounds in 14 weeks.” His blood sugar numbers have also dropped and he no longer takes the diabetes drug, which was his original goal. Naturally, success like this takes effort. Haley often comes in a 5:00 a.m. for his daily workout, although the Y is open until 9:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“Actually, everyone in the program is a success,” says Vermeer. “Because each one adopts better habits.”

YMCA Chronic Disease Management and Prevention Programs

  • Diabetes Prevention: A 12-month program that helps participants take control of their health by adopting habits that will reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve overall health and well-being. The program provides a supportive environment in a small group setting to increase physical activity and learn more about healthier eating.
    Who qualifies? Participants must be 18 years old with a body mass index of 25 and at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
    Cost/Location: Available at all branches at $429 for the year- long program. This covers the YMCA membership and allows them access to the YMCA facilities as long as they continue to attend the class sessions.
  • Move Well Today (Diabetes exercise program): This evidence based fitness intervention is designed to help participants manage their diabetes and track changes in glucose levels and fitness parameters. The program provides group instruction, supervision and motivation.
    Who qualifies? Individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
    Cost/Location: North River YMCA; $200 for YMCA members, $300 for non-members
  • Pedaling for Parkinson’s: This evidence based program is designed to improve the quality of Parkinson’s Disease patients and their caregivers. It also educates patients, caregivers and the general population about the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle after a Parkinson’s diagnosis with a focus on supporting research dedicated to the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.
    Who qualifies? Participants must be 30-75 years old; Diagnosed with idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease; Holding a signed consent form and medical clearance from their doctor
    Cost/Location: North River YMCA; FREE to members, $5 for non-member
  • LiveStrong at the YMCA: This 12-week program is designed for cancer patients to help ease the emotional and physical toll the disease has taken. Re- search based and designed to help survivors reclaim their health and well-being, the program provides the support they need for a healthier spirit, mind and body.
    Who qualifies? Cancer survivors who have completed treatment, but have not yet returned to their normal life.
    Cost/Location: All branches, FREE to participants during the 12-week recovery period.
  • Four Weeks to a Healthier You: This month-long educational program is designed for people experiencing early signs of health risk factors for chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease. Instructors discuss risk factors and help participants map out strategies for a prevention plan. The goal is to establish healthier habits for life.
    Who qualifies? Anyone seeking to live a healthier life.
    Cost/Location: All branches; FREE to members, $25 for non-members.

The contact for all YMCA Chronic Disease Programs is Director Megan Vermeer, 423-877-3517 or email her at healthyliving@ymcachattanooga.org.

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About Author

Debbie is the retired Editor of Chattanooga Magazine, and ongoing contributor.

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