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Healthy Habits workshops offer techniques, guidance

By: Natalie Otis, Journal Correspondent
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At 55, Donna Lee is one face in a sea of 14 million Americans with type-two diabetes. She said her father had diabetes, and what compounded her likeliness of becoming a diabetic was her weight. Everything changed as I headed into my 40s, the Auburn woman said. Lee was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago. Since then, Lee has gone from losing 80 pounds by doing water aerobics every day and getting off all her medications, to gaining back half the weight and restarting her treatment four years ago. Since resuming treatment, Lee says she has had a difficult time keeping her condition under control. Her doctor, she says, suspects her problem lies in managing her stress. Life happens and when people are stressed they fall into old habits, she said. Nevertheless, Lee has vowed to tackle her condition once again by enrolling in a class that, she says, is changing her die-hard ways. The class, Healthier Living, is a two-and-a-half-hour workshop given once a week, for six weeks, through the Placer School for Adults and Kaiser Permanente. People with varying chronic health problems attend the class together, which is facilitated by Mary Lou Bailey and Charleen Wilde, trained leaders who also lead by example by going through the same steps as the participants of the class. According to Bailey, subjects covered include: techniques to deal with problems such as frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation; appropriate exercise for maintaining and improving strength, flexibility, and endurance; appropriate use of medications; communicating effectively with family, friends, and health professionals; nutrition; and how to evaluate new treatments. The class is offered for free, but each participant in the workshop buys a copy of the class companion book, Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, and an audio relaxation tape for $30. Bailey says the book and tapes are great tools; however, she notes that she isn't introducing any groundbreaking or new information that isn't already available. What Bailey says is so effective about the class is the process in which the program is taught. People are pretty savvy and they read that exercise and nutrition are important, but you can easily get bogged down when you have a condition, she said. The class pulls it all together and helps people to become motivated. One of the big benefits of this class is that people see that there are other people in the same boat and they realize that they are not alone. The current class has about 20 people in it and is designed to be highly participative. The curriculum uses mutual support, a buddy system and weekly goals that are written down on an action plan that participants fill out and use to report back to their classmates each week. The action plan is important because we want to help people set realistic goals, Bailey said. If your goal is to go from doing very little to walking an hour a day, that might not be a realistic goal. Bailey said that during the four years she has taught the class, she has worked with people who have many differing conditions and seen people go from frustrated to motivated in six weeks. Some people come with their heart not really into it, but leave setting modest goals and making true efforts to achieve them, she said. Bailey says the program will not conflict with existing programs or treatment and was designed to enhance regular treatment and disease-specific education such as Better Breathers, cardiac rehabilitation or diabetes instruction. In addition, many people have more than one chronic condition and find the class helpful. The program is especially helpful for these people, she said. Healthier Living was developed by the Stanford University School of Medicine's division of family and community medicine. The purpose of the research, according to the report, was to develop and evaluate, through a randomized controlled trial, a community-based self-management program that assists people with chronic illness. More than 1,000 people with heart disease, lung disease, stroke or arthritis participated in a randomized, controlled test, and were followed up to three years. The study looked for changes in specific areas that included changes in health status, changes in number of visits to physicians, the participant's confidence to manage their disease, stress management and use of community resources. The results concluded that subjects who went through the program, when compared to those who did not, demonstrated significant improvements in exercise, symptom management, communication with physicians, self-reported general health, health distress, fatigue, disability and social activities limitations. They also spent fewer days in the hospital. There was also a trend toward fewer outpatient visits and hospitalizations. That is exactly what Lee is hoping to take from the class. We talk a lot about the frustration of not being able to do what we could do and it is helpful to see people who are going through the same thing you are, she said. I am committed and the best thing is, that I will do this because I have the whole class and the leaders to report back to. The class is offered again in the fall and is also available to Kaiser Permanente patients on a more frequent basis. To find out times and dates call Placer School for Adults at (530) 885-8585 or visit placeronline.org. Kaiser members should visit www.kaiserpermanente.org. Natalie Otis is a freelance writer. Contact her at natalieotis@gmail.com.