YMCA and New Horizons Healthcare partner for a healthier future

November 1, 2019

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that more than one in three Americans (84 million people) has pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood glucose is elevated, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Only 10 percent of those with pre-diabetes know they have it but with awareness and simple actions, people with pre-diabetes may prevent the onset of diabetes.

For individuals living with pre-diabetes, regular physical activity can be critical for preventing a diabetes diagnosis. Physical activity helps keep blood sugar down, lowers the risk of heart disease, helps insulin work well, and strengthens the overall body, among other benefits.

This year, the YMCA of Virginia’s Blue Ridge and New Horizons Healthcare (NHH) formed a mentorship to help community members with diabetes. With funding from Virginia Healthcare Foundation, NHH has been offering a diabetes and depression program to help patients with these co-existing diagnoses. Led by a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator, the program incorporates classes, counseling, activities, and support to improve the health of 130 participants. As a result, 71 percent of the diabetes participants have lowered their A1C (average blood sugar).

“The mentorship with the Y has been a great asset to our program, because it gets participants out of the house to a welcoming place where they can meet new people and be introduced to wellness programs that are available to them,” said Nancy Ridgley, diabetes program coordinator at New Horizons Healthcare. Our goal is to get them connected with the Y, with the hope of them   sustaining physical activity on their own through the Y or other organization that offers group exercise.”

Ridgley brings four pre-diabetes and diabetes participants to the Y three times per week to participate in water exercise and Forever Fit – a low-impact class designed for those living with a chronic disease. Or they can do the exercise of their choice.

 “The partnership with New Horizons Healthcare is a great example of how the Y is uniquely positioned to provide programs for all,” said John Napotnik, regional director for the YMCA of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “We have the ability to provide a variety of exercise options both in and out of the water, so community members can find activities that meet their needs.”

Karen Bushnell is one participant who has experienced significant health benefits. Her journey, however, wasn’t easy. When Karen first learned that she had diabetes, she ignored it. Doctors tried to get her A1C levels under control though medications, but nothing seemed to work and she started to become depressed. 

"My A1C levels were off the chart," said Bushnell. "I tried dieting when I started the New Horizons Healthcare program and went through several rounds of different types of medicine until one started to help some. Nancy then encouraged me to incorporate exercise into my lifestyle, and that's when I was introduced to the Y."

"After taking just one water aerobics class at the Y, I noticed I had more energy and my blood sugar levels were lower, so I kept going back. I started to enjoy working out and looked forward to the social aspect of taking classes with other people,” said Bushnell.

Bushnell’s son, Charles Bushnell, also participates in the NHH program. This has given them the opportunity to keep each other motivated to improve their health.

“Since we started attending the exercise classes at the Y, we have seen an amazing change in our overall health,” said Charles Bushnell. “I feel that the Y has been the catalyst for the major improvements in our health.”

When Karen Bushnell first started the program at NHH her A1C level was 11.9 percent, which is critically high, according to the American Diabetes Association. After only three months her levels went down to 7.1 percent. Charles Bushnell’s levels also decreased from 6.9 percent to 5.3 percent, and he has lost 20 pounds. Both credit this to the combination of a better diet and exercise.

"If it wasn't for the Y, my A1C levels would still be up there,” said Bushnell. “I watched my father die at a young age of diabetes related complications, so I knew it was time for me to take control of my life, knowing I am now older than when he died. The Y and New Horizons Healthcare have been an unbeatable combination. They have saved my life."