Melissa Spalding joined the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program because she needed help losing weight and knew that she had many of the characteristics of prediabetes. She is now a big fan.

“It is so nice to be in a group with people who are trying to do the same things you are—eating healthier and learning new skills and habits for a healthier life,” she says. The framework of the program – that there is a leader and a group that helps you with accountability. That’s super helpful.”

While Spalding picks up a good deal of knowledge from the materials that are provided, she says she also learns from her fellow group members. “We provide each other with advice on things like how to eat at a restaurant. We share tips like how to ask what ingredients are in a dish or just how to ask that they remove a tempting bread basket from the table,” Spalding says.

A different kind of health and fitness

In 2008, the YMCA of the USA began working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve health by promoting healthy lifestyles among vulnerable populations. Their collaboration yielded community integrated health initiatives, in effort to strengthen the connections between traditional healthcare and community-based prevention strategies.

The initiative increases access to care, lowers costs, helps prevent and address chronic disease and helps reduce the effect of some social determinants of health.

Here are a few of the ways that the YMCA of Greater Louisville is positively affecting the health of the community.

  1. The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program

Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

The Y’s small-group Diabetes Prevention Program helps people with prediabetes make small, sustainable lifestyle changes. The program encourages them to eat healthier, increase their physical activity and lose weight, which can delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

These small-group programs have up to 15 participants and a trained lifestyle coach. Krista Fanelli is the Community Integrated Health Specialist with the Diabetes Prevention Program. She said, “While there is a lifestyle coach guiding the group, it is mostly a peer based discussion. Members offer each other tips for how to eat healthier, how to fit exercise into a busy schedule, or how to manage stress. People come away with tools for making healthier lifestyle changes.”

  1. Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring Program

One in three American adults has high blood pressure, which puts them at risk for stroke and heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Less than half of those people have their blood pressure under control.

The Y designed the Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring program to help adults with hypertension lower and manage their blood pressure. With the support of a trained Healthy Heart Ambassador, the program focuses on  self-monitoring using proper measuring techniques, individualized support and nutrition education for better blood pressure management.

Sarah Van Heiden, the Community Integrated Health Specialist for with the Blood Pressure self-Monitoring program says, “This is more of a one-on-one program (unlike the Diabetes Prevention Program). Participants meet twice a month for four months. We work with them to identify triggers for elevated blood pressure as well as suggestions for lifestyle changes.” There is also a monthly nutrition seminar where participants can actually meet as a group and discuss a different topic each time. “One month, for example, we might focus on how to avoid sodium,” Van Heiden said.


LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA is a program for cancer survivors. They participate in a 12-week health and fitness program that empowers them to take an active role in their healing. By focusing on the whole person and not the disease, LIVESTRONG at the YMCA helps participants reclaim wellness in spirit, mind and body.

George Plager, a participant in the program at the Northeast Family YMCA says he discovered something he wasn’t expecting, a community of support. “It’s been enlightening – probably the most important part of the whole program is the support and the care and the concern the people exhibit even though they have their own problems.”

Social isolation and its effect on health

There has been a wave of new research suggesting that social isolation is bad for us. People who are isolated is detrimental to our health. One recent study found that social isolation can increase the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. Lonely and/or isolated people are also at a higher risk for cognitive decline and depression.

The Y has been long known for the sense of community it creates. Members don’t just come in exercise and leave. The members get to know each other, talk over cups of coffee, share their stories and experiences.

Van Heiden says that the people in these groups begin to depend on each other as the programs go on. While the programs feature professionals who guide the instruction, the most impactful information comes from the other participants themselves.

“Advice or suggestions that come from someone who is going through the same thing as you are, seems to carry more weight.”

More than fitness

The YMCA may be different things for different people, but everyone is inspired by and drawn to it for its emotional as well as physical benefits. The YMCA’s Community Integrated Health programs are open to the public and aim to help all community members live their healthiest lives.

To learn more about these and other Community Integrated Health initiatives at the YMCA, visit