Does your body ache before you even get out of bed in the morning?
Have your prescription drug bills become more than you can handle?
Do you feel as though you’ve lost control of your life?
It’s time to regain control and take charge of your health.
The Florida Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is coordinating FREE workshops to help you put life back into your life.
Skip Billhimer, 63, is living proof that two and half hours each week can change your life.
For six months, Skip was bedridden in the VA hospital in Miami when his sister, Billie Maguire, convinced him to check out the Living Healthy workshops.
What he learned was actually quite simple but had a profound impact on his life.
He learned that controlling the amount of food on his plate at mealtime as well as changing his mealtimes by an hour or two can greatly improve his overall health. Skip said he noticed improvements in his hearing, which had been compromised during his Vietnam service, as well as painful arthritis in his joints.
One of his greatest accomplishments, however, was his complete elimination of blood pressure and cholesterol regulating medications.
“It helps give you back control of your chronic disease instead of your disease controlling you,” said Jeanne Somma of Keys AHEC.
One of the key factors in this program’s success, she explains, is that lay people, not specifically healthcare providers, lead the classes.
“These are people who understand the pain you’re feeling,” she continued.
The curriculum, developed in 2006 through Stanford University, is part of an evidence-based program that Somma said is endorsed and recommended to the general public by the U.S. Surgeon General.
“Nobody’s lecturing you or talking at you,” Skip agreed.
The workshops are coordinated in a peer group format where participants share their experiences, conditions and ideas for improvement. Instead of a doctor or nurse waggling a finger in your face and telling you what to do, workshop leaders are also fighting back against chronic disease like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
In the first of his initial six classes, Skip said he had to create an action plan or daily schedule for reaching his health improvement goals.
“It seemed foolish to me at first, but now I live by it every day,” he said.
Jeanne explained that in the second workshop, participants reconvene to give feedback on the success of their action plans, be it walking for 20 minutes a day or slight modifications to their diet.
“If someone doesn’t fully achieve their action plan in the first week, we talk about it at the next session, why something didn’t work, and then make modifications to fit the individual,” Jeanne continued.
Relaxation tapes and breathing exercises are also among the tools used by workshop leaders. Critical topics to be addressed also include better breathing, pain management, addressing fatigue and improving lines of communication.
Towards the end of the class, workshop leaders promote fostering an open and honest relationship with healthcare providers.
“Doctors are busy, hospitals are busy and you really have to learn to be your own healthcare advocate,” Skip said, adding that one of the most critical factors to improving overall health is being honest with your physician about your symptoms.
“Men are usually pretty bad at that,” he laughed.
Living Healthy, a workshop promoting self-management of ongoing health problems like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and high blood pressure, is one of three Healthy Aging programs designed to keep older Keys residents healthy and active.
Jeanne Somma, Program Manager at Florida Keys AHEC, said Living Healthy workshop leader Skip Billhimer is living proof that you can regain control of your chronic condition.