Hands-on learning effective for managing chronic conditions

Cooking and fitness classes born out of research study continue benefiting patients.

Although managing chronic disease can be done best by adjusting daily habits, making those adjustments without proper supports often proves challenging.  A study at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) demonstrates the positive effects of providing such supports in the form of a cook book, cooking classes, and fitness instruction to patients with chronic kidney disease. 

Self-Management and Biomedical Outcomes of a Cooking, and Exercise Program for Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease,” published in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Renal Nutrition, found that hands-on learning opportunities helped chronic kidney disease patients manage their health and forestall the need for dialysis.

“We wanted to see what would happen if we went beyond simply educating patients about how to change their diet and exercise – if we actually gave them their own tools for fitness and healthy eating to maintain their health and delay dialysis,” explains Dr. Mary Flesher, who is currently the project manager for strategic initiatives and innovation at Richmond Hospital.

The study compared biomedical outcomes and quality of life measurements for two groups of pre-dialysis chronic kidney disease patients: those who were given the hands-on instruction and self-management tools versus those who received traditional care without the hands-on experience. 

Results showed that patients’ health was better maintained when they were given the opportunity to learn hands-on.

Today, the same tools developed for Dr. Flesher’s study are proving helpful for obese patients needing to optimize their health in preparation for gastric bypass surgery. Dr. Flesher also continues to receive requests for the cookbook developed in the original kidney disease study.

“We know that if we give patients practical and easy-to-understand tools about how to manage chronic kidney disease, it delays when they have to go on dialysis,” explains Dr. Flesher.  “This is life-changing because the intense time commitment required for dialysis really affects a patient’s quality of life; and while it’s very disruptive, it’s a necessary routine just to stay alive.”

“Ultimately, teaching patients to manage their health in these ways, using self-management tools, is very practical and meaningful,” Dr. Flesher says. “We still receive positive feedback that it helps them so much.”


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