High blood pressure is a very common and dangerous condition that affects our society at an alarming rate. Having high blood pressure means the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels is higher than it should be, causing damage over time. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but if it stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart and lead to larger health concerns throughout your life. According to the CDC, about 1 of 3 U.S. adults—or about 75 million people—have high blood pressure. Only about half (54%) of these people have their high blood pressure under control. This common condition increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans. At the YMCA Center for Healthy Living, the Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring program seeks to assist those with diagnosed high blood pressure as they seek a healthier lifestyle. The program is facilitated at YMCAs and off-site at partnering locations where it is convenient for participants to meet. During the program, participants take and record their own blood pressure at least two times per month, attend two consultants a month with a Healthy Heart Ambassador, and attend monthly nutrition seminars.
Brenda is a participant in two YMCA Healthy Living programs, the Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring program and the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention program. Her lively presence brightens up the room when she walks in. Her sense of humor is the biggest personality trait she brings, and the interview quickly turns into a laugh-a-minute session where she tells us her love of both the YMCA and the program she attends. “I had joined the blood pressure program at the UPMC Polyclinic Hospital, and the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program at the West Shore YMCA,” Brenda said.
Emily Bumgarner is the Program Director of the Blood Pressure and YDPP programs and has been working with Brenda on her healthy goals since she started. “I get people who are so excited to start, and they have never heard of our programs at the Y before,” Emily said. “They tell me, what can I do, I have high blood pressure, or I have prediabetes, and they just cannot believe that we offer this program free or at no cost.” Many of the programs at the YMCA Center for Healthy Living are provided free of charge to the participant or are included with the standard YMCA membership at no additional cost. This includes the materials that a participant will need to complete the program successfully, and one-on-one coaching until they successfully change their habits.
Low-income communities are especially at risk for obesity-related diseases. According to the American Diabetes Association, low-income communities are more likely to be food insecure, or be a part of a food desert, leading to the citizens consuming higher portions of processed, fatty foods. That’s why the staff at the Healthy Living Center are committed to keeping these important programs low-cost or free to participate. They’ve worked with government bodies, local, and national organizations, and have even been recognized by the national office at Y-USA to continue their efforts to keep these programs available for all who need them.
“At the Y, we have a unique place in the community where we can provide programs, assistance, support, and just a friendly place and people know that they can go there to exercise obviously, but we have so much more,” said Emily. “I would definitely want to thank anyone who has helped us to provide these programs, because I have seen the people that it can help, and it can continue to help so many more in the future.”
It’s true – many times we look at our beautiful buildings and the classes, kids, and pools, and we forget that the YMCA is helping to provide life-changing aid to our community through programs that build confidence and strength. It’s not just about weight loss, it’s about life-gain. The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program and Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring Program work hard to enable all who need it in our community to grow and thrive.