Larry Newill is actively working to keep his Type 2 diabetes in check. Aletheir Evans is now in the habit of monitoring her own blood pressure. Both say their quality of life is improving – and the “why” can be traced back to the Y.

Throughout the state, older Nebraskans are taking control of their health with an assist from their local YMCAs and YMCA benefactors. Just recently, the Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA in South Sioux City and the Hastings Family YMCA in Hastings received Fearless Grants from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska to support health and wellness programming.

The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA is using its funding to focus on Type 2 diabetes: a two-front fight that includes its Diabetes Prevention and Diabetes Exercise Programs, both of which are now free for members.

According to the 2017 County Health Rankings, Dakota County, Nebraska, has a Diabetes Prevalence value of 9.6 percent (just above the national average). Neighboring Thurston County has a prevalence of 16.8 percent, the highest value of any county in Nebraska. (Diabetes Prevalence equals the percentage of adults age 20 and older with diagnosed diabetes.)

“Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, and on average, those with diabetes have health care expenses more than two times higher than those without diabetes. Knowing your risk for prediabetes is key to taking control and reducing these statistics,” says Jacque Perez, wellness director of the Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA.

The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program – 25 sessions over the course of a year – helps adults at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes devise healthier eating, exercise and stress-management strategies. Participation in this kind of group-based lifestyle intervention has shown to reduce the number of new cases of Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent overall among adults at high risk and by 71 percent in adults over 60 years old.

The second front in the Y’s fight against Type 2 diabetes – the Diabetes Exercise Program – is a 12-week wellness and education program designed to help participants, like Newill, manage the disease and reduce diabetes-related risk factors. Twice-weekly classes include instructor-guided, personalized workouts focusing on strength, cardio and flexibility.

“It has really done me good,” Newill says. “I’ve lost weight, my diabetes numbers have improved, and I am stronger. I have more energy, and I am in a better mood. I would recommend this program to anyone who has diabetes.”

The Hastings Family YMCA is channeling its BCBSNE grant support into its evidenced-based Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring Program, the only program of its kind in Nebraska. Participants get into the habit of self-monitoring and recording their blood pressure by working one-on-one with trained Healthy Heart Ambassadors for four months.

Research from the American Diabetes Association shows one in four Nebraskans have high blood pressure, but only 50 percent are aware of it.

“The scary fact is that high blood pressure is known as the silent killer because, many times, people do not have symptoms and do not know they are at risk unless they are monitoring their blood pressure,” says Erika Knott, wellness director of the Hastings Family YMCA.

Goals for participants include better blood pressure management, increased awareness of triggers that elevate blood pressure and improved knowledge of heart-healthy eating habits. Evans, a participant, has seen real benefit.

“I’ve lost 17 pounds, and not only my blood sugars but my blood pressure became a little more manageable,” Evans says. “The Y has made it convenient for us to keep up with our health.”

The program, which served 150 Hastings residents in the past year, is open to members and non-members of the Hastings Family YMCA. The value is pegged at $225 per participant, but it is offered free of charge thanks to grants from Y of USA and BCBSNE.

“No programming was being offered for our community to help with blood pressure, so this is where we took action,” says Knott.

BCBSNE’s Fearless Grant program is an effort to reach out statewide with grants, sponsorships and community involvement that span BCBSNE’s social responsibility focus areas of health and wellness, human services and education.