Y without walls

West Cook YMCA Moves Healthy Living into Communities

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By West Cook YMCA

Screenings, seminars, fitness and nutrition sessions can mean a healthier life for people of all ages.

That's the ultimate goal of the Healthy Communities Initiative, a new partnership of the West Cook YMCA with Westlake Hospital and the Westlake Health Foundation.

The program is providing a new and much needed pathway to healthy living for Proviso Township and Northlake Village residents, according to its sponsors.

"This initiative is a fine example of a relatively new approach that YMCAs around the U.S. are adopting—'Ys without walls,'" explains Phillip Jiménez, West Cook YMCA President and CEO.

"The Y believed it important to play a larger role in the health of the community, so we sought out partnerships and community outreach to add to our own efforts.

"So much of healthy living is about prevention.

"We thought carefully about what role the Y could play as an extension of the health care facilities in this area. This new approach, funded by a three-year $479,000 grant from the Westlake Foundation, provides health screening, health education and fitness programming," Jiménez explains.

The screenings help determine if someone is at risk for a disease. The educational programming addresses conditions that might affect people in the community, from aging concerns to disease-prevention. And, a ten- week, two- day a week fitness program helps participants set and achieve their own activity goals, Jiménez said.

"We also provide a nutritionist to compliment the fitness program," Jiménez said.

Dr. Marta Alvarado, Director of Community Services for Westlake Hospital, explains that, "the program has a focus on preventative care and reaches out to populations in need."

"Education through free community seminars," Dr. Alvarado says, "are the key to building healthy communities."

"We go out into the community through senior centers and churches and bring in experts to educate on many topics. We had staff from Rush Hospital Alzheimer's Research center speak on the disease. This month, we covered 'Know Stroke, Save a Life,' to teach people how to recognize the signs of stroke. Other topics might include health awareness or alcohol awareness.

"A second prong is health screenings, which provide people with information about their personal risk factors," she explains.

"We have a high incidence of diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease in Proviso Township. Local organizations reach out to us to stage health fairs. We usually have four screening events a month focused on glucose, blood pressure, prostate cancer, and bone density. We also provide total lipid panels and BMI measurements," Dr. Alavado says.

The third piece of the program emphasizes healthy lifestyles. Dr. Alvarado notes the partnership with the YMCA is an important component.

"People need to know how to change a lifestyle. The YMCA staff teaches them how to control their food intake and weight and keep active. The Y team emphasizes the fitness portion of the equation. Y staff members participate in every health fair and demonstrate exercises and introduce fitness to the whole family. They explain very simple exercises that can be done at home and offer feedback over a ten- week fitness program about how well participants are improving their health."

A recently added fourth element is a nutritionist who joins the program weekly to discuss food's role in a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Alvarado notes that the Healthy Communities Initiative programs are really being embraced by the community. "It's a very robust effort that is helping people think differently about their health."

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