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New Ottawa Y programs backed with research studies

Arthritis, diabetes and Parkinson's core focus of new classes

The Ottawa Y has seen a glimpse of the area's current and future concerns and they're working to address it with new programming.

Those with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and Parkinson's can find assistance with evidence-based programming that Ottawa Y Executive Director Joe Capece said has the facility "expanding horizons in the health and wellness field" with new programs that have a history of success.

The programs, available to members at other Ys, including those in Streator and Peru, are replicated in a similar fashion at participating locations across the nation and have been tested through academic research studies that result in similar results, ensuring consistency across classes and building credibility with the health care community.

Health and Wellness Director Kay Smith oversees the EnhanceFitness arthritis course for those dealing with arthritis or looking to improve their balance and has already received positive feedback just a month into the program.

“We’ve gotten really good feedback and what they call the ‘fidelity of the program’ means we have to run the class exactly the same,” Smith explained to match the results shown at other locations.

The class meets thrice a week and includes a warm-up period prior to cardiovascular exercise and strength training.

“Traditionally in an exercise class you’d pick up a dumb bell. With EnhanceFitness we purchased these ankle and wrist weights because people with arthritis may have grip strength problems,” Smith said.

She added regular exercise can help those suffering from arthritis cope with and manage their pain while also increasing their balance.

Capece added the program is particularly beneficial in our area as a prior Ottawa Y market research study revealed that the senior population in the community is growing. It’s expected to consist of 22% of the population in Ottawa by 2021, while the national average is 13%.

“We’re getting ready for it and there’s no reason for folks who have these ailments and are suffering with these chronic diseases, there’s options for them now and we encourage them to reach out to us,” Capece said.

Instructor Mary Levy manages the Moving with Parkinson’s class and also noted just 30 minutes of exercise a day can help those with the disease be more mobile and improve their confidence.

“It’s a social aspect as well,” Levy said. “Getting out with other people who have the same issues you have that you feel comfortable. If you go to a regular exercise class you may not feel as comfortable (as with a Parkinson’s exercise class).”

A third diabetes prevention class wasn’t covered by Y-USA grants, but was adopted by the Ottawa Y as it has been identified as the third growing concern in the area.

Health and Wellness Coordinator Karen Szewczuk said the program is specifically for those who are pre-diabetic and are “teetering” on the line of becoming a type-2 diabetic and will be led by a lifestyle coach for a year program that would begin at once a week for 12 weeks and spread out more as the months continue.

The program will share strategies for healthy eating, increasing physical activity and decreasing a person’s body weight by 7%.

“What they do is kind of revamped the natural lifestyles that we have in making it better for their blood glucose and get them away from that diabetic risk,” Szewczuk said. “This is not a fitness class. This is more of a sit-down, social-educational class that will help enhance their life to be less susceptible to diabetes.”

The classes are free for YMCA members both in Ottawa as well as members at other YMCAs. The fitness center also offers scholarships for non-members to make the programs more affordable.

If successful, the evidence-based programs could grow to include other topics.

Szewczuk said so far she’s been a fan as the results of the program nationwide have proven the usefulness of the fitness center’s offerings and now have the data to support it.

“People who take our classes know it for themselves because they’re living it but maybe their next-door neighbor doesn’t unless (the members) speak about it,” Szewczuk said. “But with the evidence-based programs now it’s tangible. Now it’s black and white.”

Grants have paid for some of the start-up fees for the programs but the Ottawa Y expects to seek help from others in the community to build a partnership and keep the classes affordable for those who need it.

For those interested in the program, contact Capece at 815-433-2395, ext. 14 or at

For additional information on the Ottawa Y and its programs, visit

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