Image of a blood pressure monitor.

Detroit YMCA Program Helping Underserved Residents Lower Blood Pressure, Improve Health

Detroit resident McClellan McVey, 77, walks three times a week and in recent months has lost weight and improved his blood pressure.

The retired Chrysler worker credits his healthy lifestyle changes to classes he’s been able to take through different community initiatives.

“It’s not hard, it’s just that you have to do it,” he said.

One of the programs McVey took part in is called Healthy Hearts, an outreach program put on by the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, which aims to help underserved, low-income participants lower their blood pressure by following a four-month evidence-based program. The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation recently provided a $50,000 grant to the YMCA in support of the initiative.

“I really do believe it’s making a difference in our community,” said Tricia Hamzik, regional director of wellness and chronic disease prevention, YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.

Through the program, Healthy Hearts ambassadors are trained to deliver a curriculum that focuses on blood pressure reduction methods. They then spread out into the community, offering classes at neighborhood community and senior centers to reach people where they already are.

Over the course of the four-month program, participants are encouraged to self-monitor their blood pressure and come in once a week to have it professionally checked. Monthly classes focus on which foods to avoid, how to prepare food in healthier ways, what a healthy diet looks like, and other lifestyle factors that can positively influence blood pressure such as exercise, stress reduction and limiting things like caffeine.

Hamzik said she’s had participants tell her the class raised their awareness of factors that were causing them to have high blood pressure. She’s also heard that participants who’ve talked about the program with their doctors have received positive feedback, which is true for McVey, who said his doctor has been pleased with his progress.

McVey is eating more vegetables and less fried foods and said he doesn’t mind the change. In addition to the Healthy Hearts program, he went through a local diabetes education class and is continuing to focus on his health.

“You really have to set a goal for yourself and work at it,” he said.

Hamzik said the continuation of the program will help more people reduce their blood pressure, learn new skills to manage it, identify triggers that negatively impact it and provide participants the confidence to adopt healthier eating habits. Find more information about Healthy Hearts here.

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Photo credit: Tunstall

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