A New Approach to Health and Wellness Goals

Last updated: January 11, 2022, at 9:44 a.m. PT

Originally published: January 11, 2022, at 9:44 a.m. PT

Young woman walking outdoors while listening to a podcast and smiling.

A new year gives us a clean slate and an opportunity to admire the past year’s accomplishments, cut ourselves some slack, and imagine a new approach to our health journey. With that come some questions: How do I get back in the gym? How do I implement a healthy diet? How do I avoid burnout? What’s the best way to stick to my health goals while ensuring that needs across other areas of my life are also being met?

The Y wants to help you approach your whole person health in a way that allows you to continue on your goals until they start to blend in with your daily routines.

Sally Sundar, Program Executive for Health Integration at the YMCA of Greater Seattle, offers some advice on how to create your best routines by learning to adapt your goals to the joys we already partake in.

Early in 2022 many of us will be watching the Olympics, and some of us might feel inspired, but we may not want to train for eight hours per day. Working out like an Olympian is not most people’s goal – rather, it may be to feel less tired, gain more flexibility, address back pain or joint pain, or simply build up your stamina so you don't lose your breath during a brisk walk or jog.

The good news, small changes to your regular day can make a big difference for your health, and you won't have to work out eight hours a day.

Bringing Flexibility and Joy to Your Health Journey

When thinking about your daily routine, take note of everything you do. Do you enjoy watching the news, listening to a podcast, meeting up with a close friend over coffee and tea? There are often small positive changes we can make to improve our health. Sundar suggests adding a walk while listening to your favorite podcast or choosing a healthy snack instead of a baked good during coffee time.

Embrace New Year’s resolution to plant a seed

Sally Sundar: For the people we serve, we're trying to set them up for success. We're trying to broaden their definition of their whole person health and wellness goals. To not be something just as simple as, for example, losing weight (there's nothing wrong with that) … but to highlight the reasons behind their goal. For example, for some people, it's important to change their health routine so they can avoid conditions like diabetes or heart disease and spend more time with their kids or grandkids. For others, it's important to become more active so they can be outdoors more because that feels important to their mental health.

Increasing your physical activity or making changes to diet and other daily routines are a piece of that. We don't just want to throw you in a class and say, “good luck!” We want to keep focusing on those personal values that brought you here in the first place and relate to your unique health goals and your health needs over the long term.

How the Y supports members and staff to communicate about planning goals

Sundar: We have a centralized team of health coaches. Individuals and families can be referred to work with those coaches. A lot of those referrals come externally from healthcare providers … but we also receive a lot of internal referrals to work with our members and people in the community – whether they're a member or not.

When someone's connected to our team, they're able to talk to one of our health navigators and really articulate, "These are the things I'm trying to work on in my life and find out ... what's available for me the Y?"

We can connect those dots for them and say, we’d love to enroll you in one of our disease prevention and management programs, and we'd also love to get you connected to other opportunities and like-minded peers at your branch. We may connect them to a group exercise instructor for aqua fitness, or Zumba. And maybe if you get to meet with them first, you'll feel more comfortable getting started.

Key elements to sticking to a healthier routine

Sundar: There are a lot of reasons somebody gets motivated to start taking that first step. And it could be their doctor saying, “I don't want you to get diabetes, I'm going to refer you to the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program because I want you to be able to avoid the future that comes with having diabetes.” Or it could be a recognition that you’re feeling some chronic pain or low energy that you did not use to feel, and you want to change that trajectory.

We believe that the group dynamic or the peer-to-peer support that you can get at the Y is key to making changes and sticking to new routines. That's how we set up a lot of our programming - we try to facilitate connections between individuals in a group with each other. We know there's huge power in that.

And there’s power in connecting to your staff person, your coach, or your personal trainer, whoever it is. That's really going to be a big piece of what helps you retain your progress, even when the odds are sort of against you or things are rough for the rest of your life. It's that relationship piece.

Staying Focused, Maintaining your Commitment

Busy work schedules, vacations, unexpected life events, and so much more can appear front and center, seemingly to derail your goals. The Y’s approach to whole person health recognizes that your health incorporates physical, mental and emotional, social and relational, spiritual and cultural, and community well-being. This holistic approach supports a larger perspective, giving your goals a stronger purpose.

How to develop focus and commitment, even if you don’t like getting on exercise equipment

Sundar: If your version of physical activity is going to be working in your garden, then let's think about ways you can work in your garden and try to get your heart rate up. That's going to be sustainable for you. 

Or if your version of healthy eating is always going to include certain food products because of your cultural background, or it's important to you that your family continue eating certain things, even if they're not the healthiest choice … let's think of ways we can work in other aspects to your diet or routines that balance out the fact that maybe there's something that's not as conducive to weight management or disease prevention. 

What’s a unique approach to holistic health?

Sundar: The Y’s Lose to Win program could be one example. It's about learning healthy habits that make sense for you, your values, your family, and your lifestyle, that challenge you to grow and to change and to do new things.

But to do it in a way that you're not just going to run out of steam in a few months and revert to the routines you were trying to change.

Within Lose to Win we're really pushing that group dynamic and trying to build relationships. Encouraging people to join fitness classes together or go to a cooking class together: do something else that gives you more of that social time outside of class. The content and facilitation approach to the class also emphasize that there is no one ideal body size or image people should strive for – in that way we are hoping to undo some of the damage done by our pervasive diet culture and equip people with a strong sense of self in their weight management journey. Finally, if participants are struggling to access affordable, healthy foods in their communities, we know they will struggle to make the lifestyle changes they are striving for. So, we also ask about their access to resources and help them to connect to things they need to ensure the lifestyle changes they want to make are within their reach. This is our whole person health approach in action.

Changing Tides, and New Opportunities

New programs have emerged at the Y since 2020, and with that has opened up the ability for people to enjoy the Y from home through virtual offerings. If you’re more of an in-person class member, those offerings are available as well. Keeping a hybrid format is one of the ways that the Y can adapt to your flexible schedules.

How have the in-person and virtual programs shifted in the past two years? How will that adaptability affect future programs?

Sundar: We had to pivot to virtual program delivery in everything that we do. Certain programs are better suited for virtual program delivery than others. The programs that are largely learning-based and discussion-based, which a lot of our chronic disease prevention and management programs are, are easier to hold virtually compared to classes with a lot of physical activity components. We've made a lot of strides in knowing how to be effective virtually, both for discussion-based classes and movement-based classes, and we’re always asking our participants for feedback so that we can improve both the virtual and in-person experiences.

One positive outcome we’ve seen in the virtual space is an actual improvement in attendance and health outcomes in our Diabetes Prevention Program since it moved to virtual delivery. This could be for several reasons, but it's likely that virtual delivery has reduced barriers to participation that we see with in-person programming, such as access to transportation or childcare. Virtual programming also means there will be a lot more class options to fit your schedule.

Let’s Get Started

As you sift through the Y’s programs and activities, you may wonder if a community-based health program would help you maintain those New Year’s Resolutions. Or maybe you’re looking to be accountable to like-minded folks around the campus. Perhaps you want to get a personalized workout structure. These are all experiences you can access as a Y member and it’s what makes the organization an essential part of so many lives.

We’d love to help you find your 2022 health journey. Visit seattle.org/FindYourY to get started today!