This year, I’m getting healthier

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Editor’s note: Today is the first part of what will be a recurring feature in the health care column. Reporter Amy Gillentine is participating in a six-month preventive medicine program. She will chronicle her experience here and online in a special blog at

After years of unfulfilled resolutions made recklessly during New Year’s Day — I’m going to do it.

This is the year I will be dedicated to getting healthier. After all, I’m 40 now, and it’s past time to quit fatty foods and start a regular exercise program.

I must be honest, the impetus to change my lifestyle did not come from me alone.It came from an invitation to participate in a Penrose-St. Francis Health Services program.

Penrose and the Old North End Neighborhood Association are teaming to identify risk factors and work on reducing those risks.

Starting this month, 1,500 residents will be screened for typical chronic diseases, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Then, they’ll each be assigned a health coach who will track lifestyle changes during the next six months.

And, I will be among them — health coach and all.

At the end of the study, an independent actuary will tally the money saved during a lifetime of preventing diabetes, strokes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

The program is aimed at changing how health care works, said Penrose CEO Margaret Sabin.

Most often health care works to fix what’s wrong, she said, after someone contracts diabetes or has a heart attack or stroke.

“We don’t get paid to keep people well,” Sabin said. “But we should. And after this project and the scientific information that comes out of it, we can help to change that.”

The idea for the collaboration came during a dinner conversation with Old North End association president Dave Munger while Sabin was on the Chamber of Commerce annual trip to Washington, D.C.

“And he had this idea,” Sabin said. “I recognized it immediately as a way we could meet some needs of the people who live in the neighborhood around the hospital. So, now we’re getting it started.”

Launching the program is one thing, however paying for it is another.

Sabin said Well Centers has volunteered time and effort for the six month effort, and Penrose is footing the rest of the bill.

Sabin is a big believer in using coaches to  help people make lifestyle changes.

“A coach can help you see how to get from where you are, to where you want to be,” she said. “Say you want to run five miles a day, you can’t just start off doing it. You have to take steps to get there. A coach will say, ‘let’s walk five miles first.’”

For Munger, it’s a chance to create a healthier neighborhood and bring the residents closer together.

“It’s not just physical health,” he said. “It’s about the overall health, it’s about being concerned for the neighborhood and about working together.”

Munger said the residents are very excited about the effort, and he believes there will be widespread participation.

I plan to document my own progress on our Web site, Yes, all the information — from original findings to meetings with the coach — during the entire process.

So stay tuned — and see whether this year’s resolutions turn out differently.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.