MOUNTAIN IRON — Local lifestyle coach Marcia Aluni says she would not be surprised if pre-diabetes is on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) coach noted that quarantining during the pandemic has, for some individuals, decreased activity levels and boosted stress and weight gain.

“These are all factors that increase the risk for diabetes,” she said.

People who have diabetes are also at increased risk of severe complications from COVID-19. This is an important time, therefore, to continue with the NDPP, a year-long initiative that has been offered for several years at no cost to participants at the Mesabi Family YMCA in Mountain Iron.

This year’s program was initially put on hold due to the pandemic. But it will start up again, with an orientation set for March 2 and the first class starting at 5:30 p.m. March 16.

Classes will be offered in-person, with a limit of nine people, and there will be an online video conferencing option. All state and national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines, such as social distancing and wearing masks, will be followed, Aluni said.

Classes are taught by trained NDPP lifestyle coaches and are open to anyone age 18 or older diagnosed as pre-diabetic or who qualifies as at-risk for diabetes through a simple pre-screening evaluation.

Participants keep food and exercise and activity logs and set goals for weight loss. The program, sponsored by the Y, teaches ways to eat healthy without giving up foods a person loves; how to add more physical activity, even with time constraints; healthy ways of dealing with stress; and how to get back on track if a person strays from the plan.

Classes meet weekly the first three months, every other week for the next five months and once a month for the last four months.

The year-long model allows participants the chance to build up positive habits and to support one another in making healthy choices through each season and holiday.

Tackling each holiday together was extremely helpful, said a 57-year-old Iron Ranger named Jill, who spoke to the Mesabi Tribune on the condition of not using her last name.

Jill, who was in last year’s NDPP, said she sought out the program as a way to lower her A1C. Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that measures a person’s average blood sugar levels over the last three months and is one of the ways to diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes. Higher A1C levels are linked to diabetes complications.

She has a family history of diabetes, and “I wanted to prevent that,” she said.

There are often no symptoms of pre-diabetes. In fact, one out of three American adults has pre-diabetes and doesn’t even know it, according to NDPP.

While genetic risk factors can not be changed, lifestyle changes can reverse pre-diabetes and prevent the disease, Aluni said.

The program, Jill said, “gave us the tools and taught us the skills needed to make healthy changes in lifestyle. Simple changes, gradually. Not going zero to 100” immediately.

“They taught you how to eat and the exercise you need. And it’s all doable,” she said. Moderation is emphasized, as opposed to eliminating foods.

Classmates shared recipes and cooking tips with one another and supported each other, Jill said. “Everyone was very friendly and open, and you get to be friends.”

Jill said by the time the program wrapped up, her A1C was in the normal range, she lost weight, “my hip and knee no longer bother me and I feel healthier, stronger and happier.” She said her lung capacity has increased and she is breathing easier as well.

According to the CDC, there is not enough data to show whether people with diabetes are more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population. However, the risk of getting very sick from the virus is likely to be lower if a person’s diabetes is well-managed. Having heart disease or other diabetic complications could also up the chance of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 because more than one condition makes it harder for a person’s body to fight the infection.

Those interested in registering for the National Diabetes Prevention Program can call or visit the Mesabi Family YMCA , (218) 749-8020.

The program, Jill added, is “a great opportunity to take control of your health.”

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