Michele Buerster is used to a challenge. As a teacher and principal for 30 years, she learned how to reach students of all ages, and she saw the positive impact education had on them. So when she was faced with health challenges, Michele knew the best place to start was education. 

“I had been a member of the Y on and off for years,” Michele said. “But after retirement I allowed myself to stop doing the things I used to do, so I got very heavy and was experiencing a lot of pain. When I went to the doctor, he told me I was close to diabetic levels.”

Missing Out on Moments

Michele remembers a 2019 trip to Disney World with her family. The extra weight she was carrying caused leg, back and hip pain that prevented her from being able to walk, stand in lines, and keep up with her family. Michele’s doctor recommended she contact Emily Hayden, YMCA Wellness Director. Emily coordinates the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. The program is designed to help adults at risk for developing type 2 diabetes reduce their risk through adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating healthier and increasing physical activity. During the program, participants receive support and encouragement from both a trained Lifestyle Coach and fellow participants. The program consists of 25 one-hour sessions delivered over the course of a year.  

“To be honest, I was apprehensive about the program,” Michele said. “I had tried all sorts of things for weight loss over the years and I just wasn’t convinced that this [YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program] would be any different, but it was. It’s not judgy or preachy. We just share our difficulties and challenges, and learn how to change our mindset together.”

Jumping In

The program started with in-person meetings and a goal of reaching 150 minutes of exercise each week. “I’m an all-in person,” Michele said. “I set goals for myself and commit to them, but I can get really frustrated if I don’t set out what I aimed to accomplish.” 

Michele started attending aqua aerobics classes at the Y because the low-impact exercise would not cause additional pain in her hip. When COVID caused the Y to close, the group meetings became virtual and Michele started walking outside. “We got really practical information in the sessions, like choosing fresh food over frozen, and frozen food over canned,” Michele said. “It’s not all or nothing- it’s more about balance.”

Even with virtual meetings, Michele benefitted from the group sessions. “I enjoyed listening to everybody share their experiences,” she said. “We face different issues, but it was a team effort and we really supported and encouraged each other.” 

Full Circle Success

Michele had no reservations about returning to the Y when it reopened.  “I feel very safe here,” she said. “I know that everything is sanitized and the staff works hard to keep us safe.”

Today, Michele is 55 pounds lighter. Her leg, back, and hip pain is gone. She is no longer prediabetic. Most importantly, she can keep up with her family on all of their adventures. “I would tell anyone who’s facing issues like I was- definitely do this program,” Michele said. “It will teach you to combine nutrition and exercise to build a healthier lifestyle and achieve your goals, but that’s almost a byproduct. The connections you make and relationships you build are the real benefit.”