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Classes encourage healthy living

SCHUYLER COUNTY--It's more important than money, because it makes every other good thing possible. Yet we rarely give health a thought until it's endangered by bad luck, unfortunate genetics or destructive habits. Some of these can be significantly helped and the Schuyler County Public Health Department stands ready to assist in myriad ways.
One of these is the potential to empower individuals through evidence-based preventive programs, classes and workshops open to the community. It's not intended to be a secret, but it can often be difficult to get the information about classes to those who most need it. Health care providers may be too busy to mention it, public places have little room for posters, people may not be connecting to the news sources offering essential information.
"'Evidence-based' means these programs are proven to be effective in the community setting and approved by universities," explains Schuyler County native Elizabeth Watson, public health specialist for Schuyler County. "For example, in a chronic disease prevention class, they've shown statistically there's improvement in quality of life, and increasing compliance with taking medication."
The just-begun "Living Healthy Retreat," a six week program --which people may still join for its remaining five weeks - addresses issues related to arthritis, chronic pain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol among others, including such topics as preventing falls, better breathing, healthy eating, mind-body connections, making informed treatment decisions, talking to health care professionals and dealing with difficult emotions. Participants learn self-management skills, brainstorm together, make action plans for becoming pro-active on their own behalf.
"It's up to them what they want to take out of this class," Watson says. "We've had a few people take this class several times and take a different piece out of it each time." Termed a "retreat" because class sessions are two and a half hours long, it's an opportunity for people to focus on what they can do to feel better. Will it help to make family and doctors understand how the individual really feels? Could a better eating plan or gentle exercise help?
Another class, "Active Living Every Day," helps participants jump-start an exercise program in gentle increments, moving from couch potato to more energetic living with a goal of exercising 30 minutes each day by the end of the 12-week classes. One participant later told Watson she'd used her new skills and determination on a vacation, for the first time challenging herself to enjoy more active fun--and making memories on her trip she might not otherwise have had. A few participants joined Bone Builders; others explored some of the area resources they learned about in the program, like the Catharine Valley walking trail. The next class begins April 14--and it's not too early to sign up for it by calling the health department.
"We try to familiarize people with resources in the community," Watson says. "One of the men hadn't realized there was a Bone Builders group for men."
One of the most successful groups is the National Diabetes Prevention Program. "It's really geared toward weight-loss class," Watson says. "People like the idea of weight loss more than diabetes prevention." And with more than 60 percent of Schuyler residents overweight and 30 percent considered both overweight and obese, type-two diabetes is statistically in the future for those who don't address the potential causes. Watson is currently collecting names for the next class which will begin after enough people sign up and a consensus is reached on a date and time for weekly meetings. "We're looking at schedules and locations," she says. "People can be self-referred, too. It's a year-long commitment but there is weight-loss and results. It's a national diabetes prevention program approved by the CDC and shown to be effective, so we're really happy to have it in our small community."
While these classes represent a small part of what each county's public health department offers the community--most people think of the public health department as a source for vaccinations and information about community health hazards like Lyme disease--they're possibly paradoxically both the least known services yet the most potentially accessible. Each class has a nominal fee, but public health staff are willing to work with potential participants to make sure the cost of the class is not a barrier to participation.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we have these classes in our community," Watson says. "Not every community in the Finger Lakes has these. I've seen the benefits to people who stick with it. It's a really good gift you can give people, the confidence you can manage your own health."
For more information, call the public health department at 535-8140.

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