Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Monday, August 15, 2011

Better Choices, Better Health

For the past five weeks, I have been participating in an online workshop called 'Better Choices, Better Health'. I don't remember how I found it, but I am glad I did. On their home page, their tag line is 'A Stanford University Workshop to help you manage your health: a service of the National Council on Aging'. It is a six week workshop for people living with chronic conditions that teaches/encourages you to make lifestyle choices that will maximize your health.
When you enroll in the workshop, you are put into a group of about 20 people who will be your classmates for the six weeks. Each week there is a lesson to read online, and opportunities to post problems and action plans. An action plan is like a goal, only more specific. After reading the lesson and writing your own action plan, you are invited to read what others have posted, and post your replies. Classmates and volunteer group leaders give each other suggestions, validation and encouragement. Topics covered include ways to deal with pain, fatigue, and stress, healthy nutrition and exercise choices, and communication with family and doctors. You are instructed to 'log on at your convenience 2-3 times per week for a total of about 2 hours per week.' I have found that I am spending closer to 4 hours on the website each week, and some of the others in the group have also commented that it takes more than 2 hours to get through all the site has to offer. I like to be thorough, and want to read everything, though there is no requirement to do that.
In addition to the discussion center, where the posts are located, there is a section of the website titled 'My Tools'. In it, there are many tools such as the Fitness Zone, where you can post a fitness goal and log your progress; a Health Profile, where you can track your weight and blood pressure, among other things; a Nutrition Zone; Relaxation Zone; Web Resources and an Online Journal.
And that's not all. They also send you a book titled Living a Healthy Live with Chronic Conditions, by Lorig, Holman, Sobel, Laurent, Gonzales and Minor. This book is itself a wonderful resource, with chapters on self management, symptoms, exercise, communication, sex, advance directives, nutrition, medication and planning for the future. There are separate chapters on living with chronic lung disease, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Chapter 20, the last chapter, is titled: 200+ Helpful Hints. Each week there are optional readings in the book to go along with the lesson.
Setting goals is easy. The hard part is following through. This workshop not only shows you how to divide your goals into very specific steps, or action plans, but also provides the social support and camaraderie needed to encourage you to stick with it. One of the main changes I have made is to keep a food journal. It is making me more aware of what I eat, and reminding me to make better choices. I have started to jot down pain levels as well as highlights of the day's activities, to see if there are correlations.
So what does this whole program cost? Nothing. It is totally free, except for the time and effort you put into it. I highly recommend it. To get started, go to the Better Choices, Better Health home page and click on the button that says: Not Enrolled? Learn More.

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