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Encouraging Healthy and Active Lifestyles

Posted on Friday, 24 March 2017
Shamim Abdullah (far right) with her fellow team members
Volunteer Name: Shamim Abdullah
Role: Lifestyle Coach, “Choices for Health, Act Now” Program
Host Institution: Aga Khan Health Board (AKHB) for Southwest USA
Duration of Assignment: September 2014 to June 2015 (9 months)
Studies show that South Asians are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes than other ethnic groups. However, there is a glimmer of hope; a balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk and, in some cases, prevent these conditions. Aga Khan Health Board developed the program “Choices for Health, Act Now” where Lifestyle Coaches motivated Jamati members to make better lifestyle choices related to diet and physical activity. Shamim Abdullah was one of them.
Shamim was on a team of Lifestyle Coaches that promoted long term change. The program took two approaches based on behavior change theory that have been shown to affect lifestyle changes. The first is an intensive approach, with setting goals to promote long-term change, and is primarily aimed at increasing physical activity and weight loss. The second approach focuses on maintaining a healthy lifestyle by working with a coach.
Shamim’s journey began with attending a two-day training session hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing. This continuing education course included sessions with a Behavioral Consultant, Dietitian and a Personal Trainer. “Not only was I able to make a long term impact on the lives of the local Jamat, my life was also positively affected… I was able to grow and develop my nursing career through this certification.” Shamim was already involved with the Houston area Jamat through the Ismaili Women’s Group. She had held cooking demonstrations so families could enjoy delicious meals while keeping their health as a top priority.
Four Houston Jamatkhanas benefited from Shamim’s TKN assignment. She placed emphasis on whole family involvement so couples would participate and, at times, children over 16 attended to support their parents. “At first, only women attended the sessions but, when their husbands noticed the positive change, they grew curious and participated in the sessions.” The program covered three phases, each for a 3 month period. For the first 90 days, Shamim met with participants once a week; the following 90 days she met with them twice a month and, in the final 90 days, she met with them once a month.
To begin, participants weighed themselves in a private setting and had to keep a journal of their day-to-day caloric intake and physical activities. “They learned that lifestyle changes did not mean that they had to make sacrifices, they were happy to be able to eat out as long as they kept track”. There were also open sessions on healthier approaches to cooking, “My group didn’t realize how easy it was to make healthier choices. I gave them sample recipes and this turned into a show-and-tell”. Individuals would bring tested recipes for the group to taste and, when others learned how easy they were, they were motivated to try them. As the program went through its phases, Shamim had participants very motivated “People would come up to me and inform me that they were off insulin, taking lower doses of medications and, in some cases, they were off medications completely!”
These tangible outcomes made Shamim’s TKN assignment very fulfilling. She enabled her group to make healthy life choices and improved her own skills through continuing education.  Shamim obtained her nursing degree from the Aga Khan University in Pakistan and, when she moved to the US, she got re-certified. Shamim has always been involved in the community and interested in improving the health and wellbeing of the Jamat – her TKN assignment was a way of giving back for everything she has received.