WILLMAR - For those living with a chronic condition, wellness doesn't happen only in the doctor's office; it's also tied to their everyday decisions and activities.

Arming these individuals with the tools and confidence to self-manage their health is the goal of a new educational series in Willmar that starts this month.

Classes on living well with chronic health conditions will be held April 16 through May 21 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Bethesda.

A series on living well with diabetes will be held April 24 through May 29 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Willmar Community Center.

A second series on diabetes self-management will start May 23 at Bethesda.

The classes are part of a project between Juniper - a network of senior centers, community centers, churches and clinical systems - and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota to bring more resources in health education and self-management to rural Minnesota.

"What we are really aiming for is healthier communities. These are evidence-based programs that really can make a substantial difference in people's health," said Dr. Dan Trajano, senior medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The classes are open to anyone 18 and older and will be offered in both English and Spanish. Blue Cross is funding the program for anyone who participates. Participation is limited to 16 registrants for each series.

Organizers are especially targeting older adults, who are more likely to have diabetes, chronic pain and other conditions as they age - all conditions that respond well to lifestyle interventions.

Topics covered in the classes will include healthy eating, physical activity, pain and fatigue management, communication skills and medication use. Participants also will learn about muscle relaxation and guided imagery, dealing with difficult emotions and making informed treatment decisions.

Research backs up the effectiveness of empowering people with the knowledge and skills to manage their own chronic health issues, Trajano said.

Activation tends to lead to better control of chronic conditions, fewer complications and better overall health and quality of life, he said. This approach also costs less in the long run.

When 255 participants in a previous Juniper class on living well were surveyed, 99 percent reported that it helped them better manage a chronic condition, 98 percent said it helped them cope with emotions such as depression, 95 percent said they were making healthier eating choices and 93 percent reported increasing their physical activity.

An added benefit: Participation brings people into community centers where they can connect with others.

It's a way to promote the social engagement that is increasingly seen as important to overall health, Trajano said. "It is an opportunity for people to get socially engaged and reduce the loneliness and isolation that a lot of older people battle."

Similar programs have been offered in other regions of Minnesota through a partnership between Juniper and Blue Cross, and Trajano hopes it can spread.

"There's a need there," he said. "We think it's so important to improve health in rural communities. We're really excited about being able to offer this in Willmar and we encourage seniors in particular to participate."

Class registration

To register for the Living Well with Chronic Conditions series that starts April 16 at Bethesda or the Living Well with Diabetes series that starts May 23 at Bethesda, contact Melissa Wentzel, wellness director, at 320-214-5622 or melissaw@bethesdawillmar.com.

To register for the Living Well with Diabetes series that starts April 24 at the Willmar Community Center, contact Lisa Gillund, regional manager for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, at 1-866-974-0287 or Lisa.Gillund@lssmn.org.