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Healthy Living in Community

Andi WaismanAndi WaismanAs we reach the end of 2018, many people will be thinking about what changes they’d like to make in the new year. Eating healthier and exercising often top the lists of resolutions. Yet, as we all know, the path between setting a goal and reaching it can be fraught with many obstacles. We struggle with survival needs; we struggle with addictions; we struggle with managing all the demands on our time and attention.

Change is hard, but change is also possible. Here in the Healthy Living program at LifePath, we run programs that are proven to help people take control over their chronic health conditions, in part by exploring ways to make more behavior changes happen. People who have participated in our evidence-based programs over the years generally have fewer symptoms, such as depression, shortness of breath, anxiety, pain, mobility limitations, and have better quality of life, exercise more, and usually utilize health care less. Something in the recipe of these self-management workshops works.

The behavior change principle that underlies many of our programs is the concept of self-efficacy, the belief that we can perform the targeted behavior. How do we enhance people's confidence in their ability to manage their chronic conditions and other aspects of their lives?

Action planning

One of the major tools in our self-management workshop “toolbox” that help to build self-efficacy is the tool of action planning. For about 25 to 35 percent of each weekly session, we each take turns making a specific action plan, sharing it with the group, and brainstorming solutions to the barriers that keep us from accomplishing our plan. It is through action planning that people begin to feel in control of their fate, begin to grow their confidence in their ability to make changes, and see some hope that improvement is possible.

Given a structure and support, all of us usually make good decisions about our health and get motivated to make and complete goals we want to achieve. For this reason, the group leaders and peers never tell people what to do but rather support them in what they choose to do, even when the group or their doctor might have other goals for them. By asking people to make action plans and report on these plans, participants are gently persuaded and supported to try new activities they truly want for themselves.

How does action planning work?

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about the changes we want to make or the activities we want to accomplish. They seem too big to work on all at once, which makes it hard to get started. So, action planning asks people to commit to attempting, in front of a group of people, a small, “doable” action step, one that is achievable, specific, and answers the questions of what, how much, when, and how often.

For example, a person who wants to improve fitness might break this goal into several steps over the course of a few weeks:
  1. Research what type of exercise to do.
  2. Find a place to exercise.
  3. Start an exercise program by walking for five minutes, two or three times a week.
  4. Ask a friend to exercise with them.

Each step should be action-specific. For example, losing weight is not an action or behavior, but replacing processed food snacks with fruit between meals is.

Peer support and accountability are important aspects of this technique. The thought of facing their group and having to admit that they blew off their plan is, for some, the motivator to complete it.

We are continually impressed with the action plans our participants commit to and complete. Some of these have been:
  • Taking an art and wine class
  • Keeping an eating journal
  • Walking 20 minutes a day
  • Scheduling regular meals for one week
  • Take a shorter nap during the day
  • Limiting an evening snack to fruits or vegetables
  • Joining a gym
  • Going to sleep by 10:30 on two nights
  • Putting a positive statement on the mirror
  • Doing the shoulder exercises in the book
  • Standing up at least 25 times during the day
  • Drinking a glass of water before eating
  • Calling a parent every day

Sometimes we don’t accomplish our plan. We run into barriers: the weather, a spouse who buys food we don't want to eat, our lack of motivation, or our too busy lives. We then work together to brainstorm solutions to those barriers. We pick a solution to try and start again. I believe it is this restart – this human instinct to set goals for ourselves for our immediate future, to see the possibility ahead – that grows our confidence.

Try action planning

Even if you can’t attend a LifePath workshop, you can still try action planning on your own. Find a friend to make a weekly date with. Support each other to think of a small, specific, doable action plan that you each really want to accomplish over the coming week, and then check in to see how it went. Also, try calling your friend in the middle of the week to remind them of what they wanted to accomplish and express that you have faith in them; see how gratifying that feels.

At this turn of the year, when we naturally are drawn to new year’s resolutions to start fresh with hopes and dreams for the year ahead, know that the folks at LifePath are cheering you on and want to hear about your successes and challenges.

Learn more about Healthy Living workshops.

In addition to the workshops, the Healthy Living Program offers a monthly alumni group where graduates from any of the workshops support each other in making and accomplishing our action plans. The alumni group meets on the first Thursday of the month, from 2:00-3:45 p.m., at the Greenfield Senior Center.

Read more “Healthy Living in Community” articles.

“Mindfulness.” It’s become a popular term. But what is mindfulness, where did it come from, and how can it benefit people in our community?

Oct 2018 Healthy Living in Community Marilyn McArthur photoMarilyn McArthur is a local mindfulness teacher.“Mindfulness means paying attention to the immediate here and now, moment by moment,” says Marilyn McArthur, a local mindfulness teacher. “Anyone of any age who has voluntary control of their mind can learn to improve their attention with practice. Marvelously, the bit of effort it takes to be mindful actually relaxes tensions, rather than add to them.”

Originating from a Buddhist term, “sati,” the practice of mindfulness in the West entered our culture over the last century. One of the people who helped to popularize mindfulness did it right here in Massachusetts. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn created the Stress Reduction Clinic, and later the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The son of a biomedical scientist and a painter, Kabat Zinn had gone to school for molecular biology, earning a PhD from MIT in 1971, while also studying yoga and Buddhist practices. He took what he learned from Buddhism about meditation and analyzed it with a scientific approach, researching and reframing it as a tool for health and wellbeing.

Marilyn is a teacher of Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, and she says that she values “sharing its benefits with others.” When she first turned to mindfulness, however, it was as a way to help cope with a frightening and stressful time in her own life.

“On my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS),” says Marilyn. “I was stressed and also frightened, because I had three little children at home. A friend brought me a little book called The Miracle of Mindfulness, and I sensed it was the medicine I needed.”

Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on the quality of life of people living with chronic illnesses like MS, helping to increase relaxation and relieve the depression and psychological stress that can accompany a diagnosis. More specifically, MBSR has been tested for anxiety disorders, chronic pain, insomnia, substance abuse disorder, and other health problems.

When Marilyn first began to practice mindfulness, she says, “Mindful breathing helped me unwind and fall asleep. I was so happy to have a tool to overcome insomnia and rebuild my health.” Over time, her mindfulness practice helped to calm her nerves. “Daily practice helps regulate a jumpy nervous system and reduce stress.”

Marilyn brought mindfulness to the Healthy Living Program at LifePath by way of a group for alumni of the program’s workshops. “[Healthy Living Program Manager] Andi Waisman invited me to present at the monthly alumni group, a free support action group for anyone who has completed any of the workshops,” says Marilyn. The alumni meetings take place at the new Greenfield Senior Center on the first Thursday of the month at 2 p.m.

Marilyn enjoyed her experience and decided to become trained as a volunteer Healthy Living workshop co-leader. “I retired this year from my work as a museum education consultant, and now it was time to go in this direction,” says Marilyn. “I especially like working on a team and co-teaching.”

She decided to train to co-lead two different workshops: Matter of Balance and Chronic Disease Self-Management (CDSM). “Matter of Balance is good for me, as it addresses my own challenges to stay on my feet and walk as well as I can. Now I can share all its good recommendations. CDSM investigates the whole range of challenges of living with a chronic condition. It’s good to have the support of a group when you are trying to make lifestyle changes.”

Like mindfulness, these workshops are backed up by scientific research, and mindfulness practices may be taught along with a host of other strategies. “Using Your Mind to Manage Symptoms” is one of the tools in the CDSM workbook, encompassing techniques such as distraction, spirituality, writing, and relaxation body scan, a form of mindfulness meditation.

Distraction is common in our modern society. You can distract yourself in many ways: with technology, such as watching television, browsing the internet, or using social media; by socializing, reading, listening to music. While you could call mindfulness “a distraction from the anxiety and worry associated with chronic illness, and modern life in general,” says Marilyn, “practicing mindfulness, for example with the body scan, is an exercise in not being distracted from the here and now. To the contrary, mindfulness is very curious about what is happening right here, right now.”

As Marilyn said, although mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the moment, it is not about focusing on the pain you are feeling or what has you worried. Instead, you leave your inner thoughts behind to focus intentionally on what you are doing, even if all that you are focusing on is your own breath. If your attention slips away, you observe where it went without judgement, and invite your thoughts back to where you’ve intended to focus them.

“It begins by making friends with the breath,” says Marilyn. “Simply to pause and pay attention to the sensations of breathing, in a non-judgmental and curious way, serves to shift body and mind into a very welcome relaxation mode. This reduces unnecessary stress and its harmful effects. We are mindful when we pay attention to the present moment, whatever we are doing: mindful eating savors each morsel, instead of wolfing down food; mindful walking slows us down and puts our brains in the bottom of our shoes, so to speak, instead of careening headlong through the day.”

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, you can read about it online, find free resources from your local library, or take a class. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction is typically taught in an eight-week course that not everyone can afford,” says Marilyn. “Alternatively, the idea of community mindfulness is to offer regularly scheduled sessions of guided instruction free of charge or by donation, so people can acquire these skills at their own pace. I am beginning to do this at the Amherst Senior Center and the Greenfield Senior Center.”

You can connect with Marilyn on Facebook; her page is called “Mindfulness in the Slow Lane.” You can also This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 413-687-5623 with questions or suggestions about forming a community mindfulness group.

Learn more about the Healthy Living Program at LifePath, enroll in a workshop, or become a volunteer leader.

Workplace workshops connect coworkers to a circle of support

“Live knowing that setbacks are also chances to get it right,” says Greg Franceschi, offering a powerful attitude of resilience to take to the workplace, and an even more impressive outlook on life.

Just a year ago, however, Greg says he was in a state of deep depression after learning he was diabetic. But when an opportunity arose for Greg to learn ways to reshape how his diagnosis would affect his life, he signed up.

At the end of last year, Greg and several other folks gathered together at LifePath, where Greg’s wife Lisa Middents worked, to support each other as they sought to find new ways to manage the challenges in their lives through Healthy Living.

The Healthy Living Program at LifePath has been offering community workshops to help people with chronic health conditions improve their quality of life for about seven years, and under the leadership of Program Manager Andi Waisman, offerings have recently expanded to the workplace.

The first Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management Workshop

In the fall of 2017, Greg, Lisa, and others from the LifePath community gathered together for the first test run of a six-week Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management (CDSM) workshop series. It was a diverse group of ages, health conditions, job titles, and genders, all joining together in the hope of learning how to better balance work life with personal health care. They all made the choice to reveal personal details about their lives to the confidence of their colleagues, a potentially risky endeavor.

Fortunately, it worked. August 2018 Healthy Living workplace testimonial photo WEBLifePath staff members Jessica Riel, Janis Merrell, Andi Waisman, and Marianne Wilkinson take a lunchtime walk together. The four women all participated in the first Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management workshop at LifePath last fall and continue to try to support one another in developing habits for better health.

Eight months after the first workshop session, attendees report feeling a greater sense of control over their lives and ability to reach their goals.

“I was just telling a friend how the program in the fall is still affecting me positively now,” says Janis Merrell, who reports that the workshops helped her take more control over her health and helped her to remember to pay attention to her nutrition and exercise habits. “The support of my coworkers in the program, in the form of taking walks together and checking in, has also helped me remain on a healthier path.”

Like Janis, Lisa felt supported by her coworkers. “The experience for me of having the CDSM workshop at my place of work with my colleagues was profound,” says Lisa. “I felt supported in a way that I don't think would have been as possible with people I'd just met.”

The Self-Management Toolbox

As the weeks went on, two volunteer workshop leaders shared information about the “Self-Management Toolbox,” a set of 11 tools that help you manage living with chronic health conditions. Greg says the workshop offered “simple, thoughtful lessons” on topics such as:

  • Better breathing for stress management and relaxation
  • Managing medications and communicating with medical providers
  • Action planning, or identifying and taking small steps to reach big goals
  • Problem solving and decision making

Greg also valued the “continuity of support within the group, and the experience of working with leaders who understood that meaningful changes, be they in diet, exercise, or one's perception of oneself, only last when they happen in small, manageable increments within a context where the recovering individuals are getting the support they need.”

Participants talked about the ups and downs of the unique challenges they faced, such as eating the right foods in the right amounts or getting a good night’s sleep, which were often universal across diagnoses, and brainstormed together ways to tackle problems. “It was moving how much trust people had about being vulnerable with each other,” says Lisa, “It gave me such a boost of hope that I could make changes in my life and get healthier and that I wasn't alone.”

Greg shares the “basics” he took away from the workshop:

  • “SLOW down to a pace you can coexist with.”
  • “Do not pretend you are or can be in control of more than you realistically can expect to be able to be in control of.”
  • “Don't be so hard on yourself or others.”
  • “Slow down some more.”
  • “Notice all the amazingly beautiful people and things that abound independent of your frown (or mine).”
  • “If things don't always go your way, don't be surprised.”

“And, last but definitely not least,” says Greg, “keep talking to your circle and tell them what you are trying to do, maybe even ask for some help.” Greg says that this important step creates a “feedback loop,” giving “a little support” along with “regular reminders that everyone else is struggling, too.”

Lisa appreciated that the shared workplace allowed her to continue to connect with her circle on a regular basis. “Being able to see people on an ongoing, daily basis who've been through the workshop also helps reinforce what I experienced and makes the personal breakthroughs I made during the workshop so much more lasting. I came to love and appreciate the other people in my workshop on a deeper level than would have been possible in the ordinary workday. I feel a lot of encouragement every time I see them at work that we can take charge of our health and make choices that make us stronger and happier.”

What are the benefits of the program to employers?

The Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management Program not only benefits employees, but is also a boon to employers. Stronger, healthier, and happier employees are less likely to become ill, have accidents, and be absent from work; could have lower health insurance costs; and are more likely to maintain motivation and focus during the workday.

Greg shares his thanks for the support he received from the others in the workshop, who helped him to “strategize at a difficult time.”

“To all of us all,” Greg toasts, “who continue to try to make the best of it anyway.”

If you’re interested in having the Healthy Living Program come to your place of work, contact Andi Waisman, Health Living Program manager, at 413-773-5555 x2297 or 978-544-2259 x2297 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Dino is “on the path of living a life WITH chronic pain and not letting it RUN my life”

When Dino Schnelle retired two years ago, his retirement did not seem to hold the promise of “golden years.” Having suffered hip dysplasia for his entire adult life and then a heart attack in 2011, Dino also left his working life with diabetes and chronic nerve and muscle pain.

“With all these problems and conditions, I felt like my life had been taken away from me,” says Dino.

Dino, now 66, had always led an active life. In the 1980s, he moved to a remodeled one-room schoolhouse in Heath. “I started here as an organic farmer,” says Dino, “growing fresh culinary and medicinal herbs, heirloom vegetables and organizing one of the first Community Supported Agriculture projects in western Franklin County.”

In 1997, Dino took a job with Community Action before becoming the Food Pantry Program coordinator for the Center for Self-Reliance, a position he held for 16 years until his retirement.

DinoAs described by Dino: “Garden Elf Dino in front of the rhododendron.”His health conditions are what brought on his decision to retire. “Not being able to sit, stand or walk for extended periods of time, not being able to lift or carry large boxes of food, not being able to ‘play’ in my garden or go hiking were all things that restricted my ability to do my job, relax and enjoy the things that were important for me.”

Many people with chronic health conditions feel that, after a diagnosis, they are largely on their own with managing their health, as our modern healthcare system is not built to support the daily management of a long-term condition in the 15 minutes most of us have during a doctor’s visit. Dino was given prescriptions for pain medications and a recommendation to join the YMCA. “Managing my health was now my full-time job,” says Dino.

Last summer, Dino was at the YMCA in Greenfield for a gentle yoga class when he saw a flyer for a free workshop through the Healthy Living Program at LifePath. “Since I did not know anyone who had participated in the workshops, I really was not sure what to expect,” says Dino, but he decided to try it out. “I signed up for the Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop at the Greenfield YMCA in the fall – from late September through November, 2017. I was just hoping to meet others who were struggling with the same problems and looking for practical solutions.”

At the start of the first workshop session, says Dino, his feelings were mixed. “I felt that the reputation of LifePath and my experience working with the organization in the past was one of consistent professionalism, dedication and genuine concern for the people they were working with. I was concerned about the length of the sessions (2 ½ hours each) and was a little intimidated when I saw the ‘workbook’ that was distributed the first session.”

His concerns were understandable. People with chronic pain, as Dino shared, may have difficulty sitting for extended periods of time. Healthy Living workshop peer-leaders, who are also living with chronic health conditions, encourage participants to get up and move around, even to leave the room for a moment as-needed during the sessions to better ensure their comfort.

Fortunately, the heavy workbook turned out to be an invaluable tool. “The workbook laid out in easy detail a wide range of tools and techniques to deal with the ‘limits’ my pain had imposed on me.” Because people who attend the workshop are given the book to keep free of charge, it can also serve as a continued learning resource at home after the sessions have ended.

But on that first workshop day, Dino felt a sense of relief. “It was just a real change to walk into a room of full of people I did not know and NOT have to explain why I was not ‘having a good day’ because of my health problems.”

Surrounded by people from his community who were also trying to manage a life with chronic pain, Dino’s perspective began to shift. “The thing that surprised me about the workshop was the inspiration I got from the other participants, some who were older, some who had struggled with more challenging pain conditions, some who suffered from very different sources and forms of pain. But all of them were demonstrating in their own ways how engaging and facing your pain can empower you.”

Now several months after the six-week workshop ended, thanks to the tools he learned from Healthy Living, Dino says he is “on the path of living a life WITH chronic pain and not letting it RUN my life.”

Healthy Living workshops all have the common practice of teaching people to break their goals down into what Dino calls “simple, easy steps.” Dino reports that “the goal-setting and expectations-management tools have been one of the most important things that I learned, and the exercise and diet tools continue to help me reclaim my life.”

In practice, this means that Dino plans out each day to “maximize my participation in life,” he says, balancing activity with rest so he does not tire himself out to the point of exhaustion. “By planning out my week, I can focus on the priorities in my life of classes and appointments and organizing what I do with whom and when so that I do not suffer the severe ups and downs of over-doing my schedule for a few days and then requiring several more to get my energy back and get my pain back under control. I am now able to attend my gentle yoga and TaiChi classes twice a week, participate in a pain pals support group and am busy in the garden. I maintain my network of friends and, in general, have fewer of those ‘down days’ that are spent on the couch or not being motivated to do all the things I enjoy.”

The workshops include sections on communicating with healthcare providers to make the most of those often short appointments. “Because of the workshop I worked with my health care providers to sensibly reduce some of my pain and blood pressure medications which I felt was only contributing to the ‘woolly-head’ feeling I had from time to time and was one of the things that was reducing my engagement in and enjoyment of my life.”

Dino has even been able to share what he has learned to help someone else: his 87-year-old mother. Immediately following the workshop’s end Dino spent three weeks with his mother after she was released for a 12-day hospital stay for blood clots in her legs. “Upon reviewing the workbook with her, we were able to find exercises that we both could do that would help her build up the strength she had lost in her arms and legs,” says Dino. “She has had a full recovery, and we continue to inspire, support and challenge each other as we get ready to celebrate her 88th birthday!”

If you think a free Healthy Living workshop could benefit you or a loved one, please reach out to Andi Waisman, program manager, at LifePath: by phone 413-773-5555 x2297 or 978-544-2259 x2297 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.More information, a workshop calendar, and a referral/registration form are also available.

Be gentle & forgiving with yourself to change behaviors

Andi Waisman smallAndi WaismanI have worked in public health my whole life, reaching people with many different health challenges who are in various stages of changing some behavior. Some people have been challenged to change their risky sexual behavior, their smoking behavior, their drug use behavior, their relationship behavior, their parenting behavior and so on. Most recently, I have the privilege to work with individuals with chronic conditions who are hoping to play a more active role in managing them.

Though millions of us Americans are living with a chronic illness that could be helped by some lifestyle changes, we all find it difficult to change our behaviors. Those of us who have tried to quit smoking, change bad eating habits, increase our exercise, stop risky behaviors as well as those researching change know how difficult behavior change can be. We have learned that people changing their behaviors, regardless of what the behavior is, move slowly through various stages from intention to long-term success. We stop and start. We relapse. We progress. And that’s okay – it’s part of the process.

Research has shown that by making some lifestyle changes, we can significantly affect our health and our quality of life – and those same researchers have identified the factors that influence us to move through the stages to success. Sometimes, just giving people basic information will be enough to move them along the process of change. Sometimes people begin to think about changing when they realize that their behavior has an effect on the people they care about. Sometimes, the act of making and expressing a commitment to a new behavior is what people need to move them forward. Sometimes the work to support someone changing is the work of building confidence, helping them believe that they can be successful and change their negative internal messages to messages of confidence.

Our Healthy Living workshops at LifePath help you use these tools. We serve people who want to get their appetite back, find ways to cook for just one person, manage symptoms, manage their diabetes through diet and exercise, eat more vegetables and add more grain to their diet, fight all kinds of illnesses. They want to get strong enough and have enough balance to get on a bus, to walk their dogs, and to hike in the woods on rough terrain. Our students want to learn how to accomplish their daily activities (gardening, spring cleaning, paperwork) again while managing their chronic pain. We grow confidence in people by asking them to break things down in more doable chunks and by giving information. We teach our students to create confidence-building statements, to find creative ways to integrate physical activity into our lives, and to support each other to solve problems. We make commitments each week to tackle a small, achievable goal and share ideas about issues that concern us.

For me, it was a bout with cancer that pushed me to finally quit smoking. For two of our Healthy Eating students, it was the act of monitoring their eating habits daily, realizing how their eating contributed to their diabetes problems, that helped them to integrate more healthy eating habits into their life. For several of our chronic pain students, just getting information from a peer who also suffers from pain is what it took for them to become open to trying the strategies we teach.

We stop and start. We relapse. We progress. We are grateful to be walking together.

Click here to learn more about Healthy Living or call 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.