Michael Yelton

This time of year especially, Michael Yelton, a 79-year-old veteran who is training to run his next marathon, appreciates the fitness services Four Rivers Area YMCA has to offer, particularly the indoor track.

“I don’t enjoy running in the cold,” said Yelton, noting he plans to walk/jog 40 miles on the Y track this week as he trains for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Dec. 2.

It will likely be cold that day, but Yelton said he can bear that to help the children at St. Jude.

A 10-year veteran of the Army and Air Force in the 1950s and ’60s, Yelton, who served in Vietnam in 1966, was never wounded in combat and doesn’t have any physical injuries from his time in service. He was, however, exposed to Agent Orange, and today has both diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

After the military, Yelton worked as a Southern Baptist pastor and led a fairly sedentary life. He didn’t take up jogging until he was a senior, running his first marathon at age 75.

“Even though I’m the age I am, I still want to be active,” said Yelton. “I can’t run as fast as younger people, but I can still walk or jog, and distance has never been a problem . . . I want to be active.”

That’s why Yelton, who drives to Columbia to receive VA services, is excited about a new partnership the VA is developing with Four Rivers Area YMCA that would allow him to participate in well-being programs as means of strengthening his whole health.

Scheduled to begin in January, the partnership will fill a big need, said Tim Peters, program director at Four Rivers YMCA.

“I see a lot of potential for veterans who can be helped with this,” said Peters, “veterans from Washington and all around this area.”

New Approach

“Whole health” is a new proactive approach that the VA is taking in caring for veterans, said Kavitha Reddy, MD, whole health system clinical director at VA St. Louis.

“The term is about changing the way we deliver health care,” said Dr. Reddy. “Right now we often look heavily at patient symptoms or diseases, which is important, but it doesn’t give you a picture of a whole person. So whole health is looking at what are the personal health goals for a patient.

“What gives them meaning and purpose in their life? What is their goal for a healthy life? How can we give them the education and skills they’ll need to help them achieve their goals, coach them to be able to make those changes and really connect with their clinical team so they are making shared decisions about their health care?” she asked.

Whole health is about looking at the veteran’s body, mind and spirit and treating the person as a whole, Dr. Reddy explained.

That lines up perfectly with the Y’s mission, “to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” Peters said.

Part of the whole health approach involves veterans, over the course of six weeks, addressing various aspects of their self-care, things such as their surroundings, family, working the body, food and drink, sleep . . .

The result is, at the end of the six weeks, they feel empowered and really connected to what they want to do, said Dr. Reddy.

Closer to Home

Veterans from the Franklin County area who have gone to the VA for services have talked with their providers about wanting to try certain exercise and fitness routines, like meditation or tai chi, but were not able to get to VA facilities in St. Louis on a regular basis, said Dr. Reddy. They were just too far.

A focus group made up of local veterans, including Yelton, helped determine that a partnership with Four Rivers YMCA can be a solution to that distance barrier.

“We are working on establishing that partnership, where some of our whole health partners can go out to Washington and teach these groups to do a deeper dive into self-care and what their health goals are,” said Dr. Reddy.

That will include classes at the Y offered exclusively for the veterans. The plan is to start with a tai chi class, but Peters feels the possibilities are endless. There’s also yoga and swimming, but other ideas include mindfulness classes, meditation, pain management (both physical and emotional) and nutritional classes.

The classes will likely be offered in the afternoon, which was recommended by the focus group, but if the response from veterans is that a morning session would be preferred, the Y will look at its schedule to see if that is possible, said Peters.

Peters anticipates a strong response from area veterans to the whole health program.

“They will find that (the Y) can be a home for them, a safe place for them,” said Peters.

“We see this as an ongoing program.”

For more information on the Y’s whole health program for veterans, people should contact Peters at 636-239-5704.

Livestrong for Cancer Survivors

The new partnership between Four Rivers YMCA and the VA will be one of the Y’s community health programs.

Currently the Y offers a 12-week program for cancer survivors, Livestrong, and is beginning one for diabetes prevention and another for Parkinson’s patients.

With Livestrong, cancer survivors are given access to the Y facility for 12 weeks to “heal the whole person.” It is a partnership between the Y and the Livestrong Foundation.

Participants work with Y staff trained in supportive cancer care to safely achieve their goals, said Peters. That can be building muscle mass, increasing flexibility and endurance, improving self-confidence and self-esteem, reducing the severity of side effects, managing unwanted weight changes and improving energy levels.

“By focusing on the whole person and not the disease, Livestrong at the YMCA is helping people move beyond cancer in spirt, mind and body,” the Livestrong at the Y brochure reads.

Once a survivor is enrolled in the program, the survivor and their family receive a free three-month family membership. The Y’s Livestrong professional will then develop a plan for the survivor based on his or her needs. It will include cardiovascular exercise, resistance training, balance and flexibility.

Survivors meet twice a week both for their workouts and to support each other, said Peters, noting participants include people of all ages and survivors of all types of cancer.

The next Livestrong session will begin Jan. 8. Three sessions are scheduled for 2018.

For more information or to sign up, contact Four Rivers YMCA at 636-239-5704.

Parkinson’s Program

Similar to Livestrong, the Y plans to launch a program for people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It is expected to begin after Jan. 1, said Peters.

The Y is partnering with the National Parkinson Foundation to create specific classes for people with Parkinson’s disease.

“One that we are talking about offering is cycle fusion, where it’s a little bit of cycling and a little bit of weightlifting,” said Peters.

The goal is for participants to use exercise to help reduce fatigue and sleep irregularities, increase their energy, improve their mood, prevent disease and enhance their overall feeling of well-being.

For more information, contact Four Rivers Y at 636-239-5704.

Diabetes Prevention

Next month, Four Rivers YMCA will launch a new Diabetes Prevention Program for people who are at risk of developing Type II diabetes.

In a classroom setting, a trained lifestyle coach will facilitate a small group of participants in learning about healthier eating, physical activity and other behavior changes over a 12-month period.

That will begin with one-hour weekly sessions that will taper off to bi-weekly sessions and then monthly sessions. The goals will be to reduce body weight and increase physical activity.

Participants will receive a notebook which contains worksheets and handouts for them to use in each of the sessions of the lifestyle intervention. Participants also will receive a weekly journal and be asked to track their food and physical activity during the program.

Starting on Week 5 of the program, participants will receive a free three-month membership to the Gateway Region YMCA.

Cost of the program may be covered by some insurance policies, or financial need scholarships are available to individuals who qualify, as well as a self-payment option.

For more information on the diabetes prevention program or to sign up, people should contact the Y at 636-239-5704.