High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease – these are all ailments that can be controlled with a healthy diet and exercise. However, developing a solid plan for improved health and maintaining the motivation to continue with that plan is a struggle for many. That’s where the YMCA of Central Florida steps in.
Healthy living is one of the YMCA’s main focus areas, along with youth development and social responsibility. Part of leading Central Florida neighborhoods to a healthier lifestyle is offering educational programs about healthy foods, nutrition and gardening.
Gary Appelsies, director of healthy eating for the YMCA says the goal is “to teach people that you can use food to create a healthy lifestyle.”
The expansion project at the Dr. Phillips YMCA will include a healthy eating café where staff members will host cooking classes, food demonstrations and educational opportunities. At the YMCA’s outreach locations, which are located in fragile communities, there are plans for community gardens so members will have access to healthy food. The Wayne Densch YMCA is the first community garden project.
“We live in an area where food can be grown all year long,” he says of the sunshine state. “We have lots of farms and access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and a lot of people don’t know how to find it or go about using it.”
Opportunities like these, along with the organization’s Diabetes Prevention program and its Livestrong program for cancer patients, bring awareness to issues like obesity and the prevalence of diabetes while teaching people in the community about being healthier in general.
Aligning with the YMCA’s mission of strengthening the community despite a person’s age, income or background, many of these evidence-based programs don’t require a YMCA membership. Some are grant funded or funded through insurance while others are free.
“Our goal as an organization is to really create a way for people to be healthier,” Appelsies says, noting that people can visit the YMCA to work out but it’s about taking it to the next level. “We realize, along with exercise, diet is just as important, and we need to teach people to eat healthy to create a healthy community.”
Through the YMCA’s healthy eating initiatives, there are educational opportunities for people across six counties: Orange, Osceola, Brevard, Seminole, Lake and Marion. With a variety of healthy eating programs, they can learn how to read a food label at the grocery store, where the nearest farmer’s market is and what they can find there, or how to prepare a healthier version of their family’s favorite meal.