May 12, 2012

Latino center helps seniors cultivate healthy new traditions

by Staff, Douglas County Health Department

Traditions run deep in the Latino culture. From music, to recipes, to family – they’re the things that bring people together and create a sense of community.

It’s some of those same traditions that can benefit from healthy changes, says Carolina Padilla, executive director of the Intercultural Senior Center in south Omaha.

In 2008, she founded the organization as a way to offer Latinos age 50 and over a place to gather. The center, which is open Wednesday through Friday, welcomes members to take part in programs, make crafts, celebrate cultural events and enjoy the fellowship of their peers.

It has also become a place to find new ways to re-think everyday health decisions, Padilla says. “The seniors in our community want to be productive, but many of them are dealing with ongoing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. We’re helping them make little changes in their lives.”

One change has been making a switch to water, tea and coffee instead of sugary soda. For people used to avoiding unsafe water from the tap in Latin American countries and opting for fruit juices and pop, that shift involves a new kind of trust.

Padilla says her seniors have embraced the new options, as well as the other healthy options available at the center. The regular group of 35 to 45 members takes part in tai chi and Zumba classes each morning. After exercise, they have a healthy snack like yogurt, granola, fresh fruit or oatmeal. At noon, they eat a catered meal from a local Mexican restaurant via the Meals on Wheels program—made with low-fat ingredients, per the center’s request.

Members also tend a raised-bed vegetable garden, which has filled their kitchens this season with tomatoes, hot peppers, radishes and cucumbers.

“They like all of the changes,” says Padilla. “And they’ve noticed that they watch what they eat more, they exercise more, and they go home and practice these new ideas with the rest of their families. They’re taking it very seriously.

“Our involvement in Partners for a Healthy Community has helped us see how we can provide more good options for our members. It can be expensive to eat healthy, and most of our people come from low-income families. So we’re talking and sharing simple options and encouraging them to make good choices when they’re at home. Those changes are really important.”

Active Living, Healthy Eating


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