Participants in healthy living workshop

NEWS // May 25, 2016

Healthier Living Workshops Offer Practical Tools for Chronic Conditions

When Sandra Gustafson was diagnosed with osteoporosis, she didn’t realize how much it would change her life. She eventually had to give up playing tennis and the hiking she had enjoyed with her friends.  Her high-heeled shoes were switched out for flats. Now she regularly goes to the gym, walks her dog Sophie (in her flat shoes) and has rekindled her passion for teaching, a direct result of how she has coped with her condition.

“I may not be able to sling fancy purses over my shoulder any longer,” Gustafson laments. “But there are things everyone can do to make their condition a little better.”

Three or four times a year, Sandra co-facilitates a series of six Healthier Living classes for people just like her who have a chronic health condition. The classes are coordinated through HHSA’s Aging & Independence Services’ (AIS) Health Promotion Department and use a curriculum developed and proven effective by Stanford University.  The Healthier Living program teaches practical tools that participants can use regularly to problem-solve and cope better with their situations.

A Healthier Living workshop consists of six classes that meet for two and a half hours, once a week, for six weeks, in community settings such as senior centers, churches, libraries, and apartment complexes. People with different chronic health problems attend together. Workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders, one or both of whom are non-health professionals with a chronic health condition themselves.

Topics include:

  • Nutrition
  • Weekly goal setting
  • How to evaluate new treatments
  • Appropriate use of medications
  • Communicating effectively with family, friends, and health professionals
  • Techniques to deal with problems such as frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation
  • Appropriate exercise for maintaining and improving strength, flexibility, and endurance

Each participant receives a copy of the companion book, “Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions” and an audio relaxation CD, “Time for Healing.”

The small-group classes are highly interactive, where mutual support and success build the participants’ confidence in their ability to manage their health and maintain active and fulfilling lives.

“No matter what the condition is, the emotions are the same for all,” said Gustafson. “The students get that and they bond. We’re all in this together.”

The Healthier Living program has continued to reap rewards for Gustafson. She continues to maintain a great relationship with the “buddy” she was paired with when she took the classes. And she has added so many more friends among the students she has worked with as a facilitator.

“I consider this program a blessing,” said Gustafson. “You can meet people from all walks of life and learn from them. It broadens your outlook, stretches you.”

Healthier Living classes for all types of chronic conditions, including diabetes, are offered free of charge throughout San Diego County.  To find a workshop near you, call (858) 495-5500 ext.3 or check the current schedule online:

AIS is currently recruiting leaders and community host sites for the Healthier Living program.  If you are interested in becoming a volunteer leader, please contact Lillian Galarza at  If you would like to host a Healthier Living program at your site, please contact Linda Peek at  

Sandra Gustafson with her dog Sophie