What a year it has been! The first case of COVID-19 in Montana was reported on March 11, 2020. Everyone’s lives have changed in both large and small ways. We have had to learn to be flexible and adapt. To combine two old adages: “We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
We are better together. The pandemic highlights the important roles we depend upon ranging from health care providers to everyone producing our food. Public service comes in many forms including delivery of mail, news, packages, groceries and energy. Educators find creative ways to teach. Neighbors, friends, and family know that human connections are vital even if they are virtual or masked.
Another pandemic lesson is the incredible power of prevention and the need to prioritize it. While the rest of us distance, scrub and mask, the scientists rush to create and deliver vaccines that will prevent COVID-19. Preventing any disease, especially COVID-19, will save money, time, suffering, and also lives. About half of Americans today have been diagnosed with a preventable chronic illness like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. One in three Americans has pre-diabetes. These are many of the same conditions that make COVID-19 so deadly.
Better Together and the Power of Prevention embody the public health message of the Healthy Lifestyles program in Miles City, Forsyth and Baker. In April, Healthy Lifestyles will start another session—its 14th year of promoting prevention. Funded primarily by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, officially recognized by the CDC, and based on years of research, the program’s goal is to prevent and decrease the risk factors associated with pre-diabetes, diabetes, and heart disease. Because change is challenging, Healthy Lifestyles is a year-long program focused on helping participants find the small, sustainable changes that can lead to longer, healthier, and more active lives.
Healthy Lifestyles embraces the Better Together approach. It combines trained health professionals in nutrition and physical activity with participants who bring wisdom, support, and expertise to the group. Community partners also encourage the change process. The Centra provides an exercise partnership for participants. Reynolds Market is a healthy nutrition partner for class members. Holy Rosary Healthcare, Fallon Medical Complex, and Rosebud Health Care Center all provide facilities and staff to make the program possible in their communities.
The Power of Prevention is proven by the numbers. Losing 5-7% of weight, making healthier food choices and increasing physical activity reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58% in people at high risk for the disease, and up to 71% for people aged 60 and older. Recent Healthy Lifestyles participants have lost an average of 8.9% of their starting weight, increased physical activity, and report increased energy and wellbeing. Many have improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. One lifestyle change participant notes:
“Having a group of people with the same goals as me really motivated me to jump start healthy lifestyle changes. When my glucose levels and blood pressure started to increase, I knew I had to do something to reduce my risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. When I mentioned my concerns to a friend, she told me about CDC-recognized lifestyle change programs. I love the support and encouragement I get from the other program participants and the lifestyle coach. I enjoy making lifestyle changes. I now keep my bike at work and take lunch-break rides around town to stay active!”
As southeastern Montana looks toward the “light at the end of the tunnel” and “getting back to normal” let us keep in mind the COVID-19 lessons and create a “better normal” that focuses on the power of prevention and that we are better together.
Healthy Lifestyles classes begin in April in Miles City and Baker. For more information, or to reserve your spot today, please call 406-233-4067 (Miles City) or 406-778-5448 (Baker).
Liane Vadheim, Clinical Dietitian