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Appalachian Health Summit provides inspiration for healthy living

When Kira Slepchenko attended the Appalachian Health Summit Live Healthy Workshop last spring, she gained much more than tips. The workshop empowered her to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

Today, as Live Healthy Appalachia prepares itself for its second summit, Slepchenko is once again readying herself to attend—this time as a volunteer.

"This event is so powerful and has such a positive and encouraging message, I wanted to be a part of it. I am volunteering with the event this year as a thank you for all Live Healthy Appalachia did for me," she said.

A biochemistry major and lab technician with OHIO's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM), Slepchenko understands the importance of healthy living. The summit's focus on cardiovascular disease and cancer is particularly fitting, based on her family health history.

"Both topics are very interesting for me personally because my husband's family has a history of heart disease and many of my family members passed away because of cancer," Slepchenko said. "Imagine how liberating it was to learn that you can control both of these terrible issues with lifestyle modification."

The 2012 Appalachian Health Summit comprises a conference for health professionals on Friday, Sept. 28, and a community workshop on Saturday, Sept. 29. Both events aim to promote and support healthy living throughout the Appalachian region.

Summit conference: Facilitating change

Titled "Facilitating change for a healthier Appalachia," this year's Appalachian Health Summit conference will be held from 1-5 p.m. on Sept. 28 in Walter Hall Rotunda. According to Live Healthy Appalachia Steering Committee Executive Chairman Tom Kostohryz, the event builds upon last year's message of preventing and reversing chronic diseases through positive lifestyle changes.  

Kostohryz acknowledges that changing lifelong habits is easier said than done.

"We have to overcome many barriers that make change difficult. This year's summit addresses many of those barriers and discusses ways and techniques that can help empower people to make permanent change," he said.

Healthy living workshop: Ready for a change?

One way that Live Healthy Appalachia plans to spark the change in the community is through the free Healthy Living Workshop, held Saturday, Sept. 29 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Athens Community Recreation Center. Keynote speaker Caldwell Esselstyn, a doctor with the Cleveland Clinic, said the workshop's message is important because heart disease is so pervasive in today's society.

"Probably over 90 percent of Americans, have no idea how to eat," said Esselstyn. "For instance, if you autopsy young people between the ages of 17 and 34 in this country who died of accidents, homicides and suicides, even without a microscope, the presence of coronary heart disease, the early foundation is ubiquitous. Everybody has it."

Through lectures by nationally known and respected speakers, free health screenings provided by OU-HCOM's Community Health Programs, and a cooking demo with Chef AJ, the Live Healthy Appalachia workshop helps attendants gauge their health and take steps to improve their diet.

"They are going to learn strategies and personal choices that they can make in their lives so that they will optimize their health and longevity," said Esselstyn. "How they can prevent getting hypertension, how they can prevent getting diabetes, how they can prevent getting a heart attack or a stroke – those are some powerful messages."

Getting started

Although the process of getting in shape and changing lifelong habits feels daunting, the Appalachian Health Summit provides the motivation to get started, said Slepchenko.

"The event was extremely inspiring. There were a lot of people attending, and there was this contagious enthusiasm in the audience," she said. "Total strangers would look at each other and say, 'We can do this!'"

Slepchenko believes that a healthy community is the next step in continuing to allow Appalachia to thrive.

"We have a very unique community. People are oriented toward self-reliance, sustainability and local food. We can take the message of health and the message of growing our local economy and change our community (individually and collectively)," she said. "Our community already serves as an example in local economy development. Now let's became an example of great health."