SURPRISE, ARIZ. (Oct. 9, 2014) – November is American Diabetes Month, a time to raise awareness of diabetes, including learning ways to manage it and decrease the risk of developing the chronic condition.

A microcosm of the diabetes story is playing out in the Phoenix-metro area’s Northwest Valley where the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing is helping hundreds of people, many of them seniors, learn how to self-manage their diabetes and slow or stop pre-diabetes in its tracks.

The center opened in March with a full slate of health and wellness classes, including Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME), the Diabetes Prevention Program for pre-diabetics (DPP) and weight management. The classes are low cost and may be covered by insurance. Some insurance plans also will cover individual consultations with staff.

There are many diabetes-related success stories coming out of the center. Here are three samples:  

Anne MacDonald, 82, calls herself the “original couch potato.” Prior to being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years ago, she strenuously avoided exercise. She’s a pancreatic cancer survivor whose cancer led to diabetes. Much like she had done with the cancer diagnosis, MacDonald decided to fight her diabetes head on. She turned to Sun Health’s DSME classes where she discovered a team of experts eager to help her learn healthier habits.

“Before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I had no idea what it really was. I just thought you don’t eat sugar,” MacDonald said. “The classes taught me the importance of exercising.” Class instructors inspired her to take action. She ended up losing 36 pounds, largely by modifying her diet and exercising six days a week.

As a diabetic, Sun City Grand resident Lee Roach is always on the lookout for new programs to help her better manage her condition. What she found in Sun Health’s DSME program exceeded expectations. Since joining the program, Roach has experienced gradual weight loss and her triglycerides, cholesterol and diabetes are all well under control.

“I’m still diabetic. But living with it has become manageable,” she says, adding that a high-blood-sugar reading for her now is usually around 107. “I’m 75, and I feel like I’m 45. It comes down to a lot of eating right and exercising. And I swear, I really do feel like I could run with the teenagers.”

Floyd Cotton and his wife Linda have been doing a lot of new clothes shopping lately. After participating in DPP classes, the Sun City Grand couple have not only fallen in love with a new, healthy lifestyle—they’ve also dropped a few pant sizes. “I’m down a good two or three sizes in my waist, but even more than that, I just don’t feel sluggish. I always have energy,” said Floyd, 73.

The Cottons began the program after Floyd was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. The six-footer, weighing 230 pounds, was on the edge of being labeled diabetic. Now, five months into the program, he’s lost more than 25 pounds and his blood glucose levels went from a high of 124 to a reading of 97. Both Cottons also were able to stop taking cholesterol medications and reduce their high blood pressure medications.

These are just a small sample of the positives that instructors Tracy Garrett and Rhonda Zonoozi have witnessed since they began teaching the classes. Garrett is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator while Zonoozi is an exercise physiologist and health coach.

“We emphasize that knowledge is power,” Garrett says. “Diabetes can be managed effectively if people learn the basics and make gradual changes in their diet and physical activity. Research also shows that people diagnosed with pre-diabetes can lower their risk of converting to Type 2 diabetes by nearly 60 percent with modest weight loss and small increases in physical activity.”

Since opening, the center has presented 28 DSME classes (two more offered before 2014 ends) and 20 DPP classes. It’s too early to evaluate the success of the DSME classes, but 90 percent of the DPP participants successfully met their own weight-loss and activity goals.

Linda Cotton, Floyd’s wife, appreciates the positive effect the classes have had on their  health. “It is encouraging that there are programs like this. It is truly set up to make you succeed.”

About Sun Health
A long-standing community partner championing healthy living, nonprofit Sun Health is a community-based health care organization providing pathways to population health through philanthropy, senior living, community programs and superior health care.

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