Warm weather days are here. People are shedding their winter clothes and winter blues and putting on a pair of fitness shoes. Exercise comes in many forms and has been a proven source of physical and mental therapy.
An article published last year by the DC Policy Center (https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/gym-deserts/) revealed some disappointing yet familiar statistics. Wards 7 and 8 are a commercial gym desert. In addition, residents report that they are less likely to work out because of obstacles such as commute times, crime and stress. If issues like these are working against someone, they may not feel like giving an hour of cardio a go three days a week.
So, what are the options for making physical activity more accessible and maybe even fun? River East offers some enticing, valuable, fun workout options that are good for the body and easy on the budget.
Who says that a workout has to be contained within four walls? There are opportunities to walk or run in many neighborhoods. Wards 7 and 8 have green spaces that are paved and shaded for an optimum outdoor workout. Take a neighbor, a friend or the kids and hit the park.
The DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) offers guided walks and bicycle tours during the week. Charles Taylor, recreation specialist at Kenilworth Recreation Center in Northeast, leads fitness walks on the Anacostia River Trail and through the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on Monday and Wednesday mornings. He also leads bike rides.
Taylor says lack of fitness centers is no excuse not to get active. “Although there is a shortage of gyms in Wards 7 and 8, there are still many opportunities for residents east of the river to live a healthier and more active lifestyle by taking advantage of parks, green spaces, trails, rivers and recreation facilities in our community. Exercise outdoors and at recreation facilities can be conveniently beneficial, both mentally and physically.”
Taylor adds that moving your routine outside has multiple benefits. “Taking your fitness routine outdoors can be a great way to stay active and develop a relationship with nature/the environment. Gyms are nice to have, but there are many ways to be a happier, healthier and more active community.” Find out more at https:// http://dpr.events/.
Love bicycling? There are many opportunities to get active and absorb some amazing scenery on a bicycle. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) offers guided rides of historic landscapes free of charge to people of all ages. Its East of the River program was created in 2010 to support new and existing riders through their journeys. (http://www.waba.org/programs/east-of-the-river/)
WABA offers instruction on how to cycle and navigate on busy city streets. Says Ursula Sandstrom, Trail Ranger coordinator for WABA, “We have a number of different programs that serve all different places, but there’s a lot of work being done in Wards 7 and 8.” She adds, “We have Trail Rangers on DC urban trails. They are part-time folks who are out six months a year running events in Marvin Gaye Park, Anacostia and the Suitland Parkway trail. There’s a lot of history that the park has seen. We have fun rides through the park to help people connect with neighbors about the history that’s in their backyard.”
In the fall, WABA will offer learn-to-ride and city-cycling classes in Anacostia Park. The learn-to-ride class is a three-hour course designed to get newcomers up and about on their bikes.
If you haven’t noticed by now, the DPR is opening up more opportunities to get fit and stay active through the #FitDC initiative. Fit DC, the brainchild of Mayor Bowser, offers classes and fitness events to residents across the city. (http://dpr.events/) It is also the point of contact for the fitness centers that are available in many of the recreation centers.
Sherman M. Nelson Jr., health and wellness/combat sports coordinator for DPR, says there are many opportunities to stay active in Wards 7 and 8. “East of the river we have 12 recreation centers; 11 of those sites have fitness classes and nine of them have fitness centers. The mayor has directed us to make the centers free for DC residents. All they have to do is go online and create a membership account and they will have access to all the fitness centers in the city.”
Many of the fitness centers under the care of DPR are being renovated or receiving new equipment. Nelson admits that DPR has to toot its horn more often to make residents aware of the conveniences available right in their backyard, but he adds that DPR is prepared to help residents increase their physical and personal development. “Our motto is move, grow and be green. You can go to the rec center to get a quality workout or try something new like gardening or recycling. Our cooperative play, summer camps and youth sports present options to move more, which fits the mandate of Fit DC.”
African Dance: It’s a [Fitness] Thing!
Can you hear the drums calling? They’re sounding off every Sunday in Northeast at the Riverside Healthy Living Center on Foote Street. (https://www.washingtonparks.net/event-spaces/riverside-center/) Ni Dembaya (“spirit family”) has a class to lift your spirits as well as your feet. The African dance class offers instruction on West African dance moves and drumming. It’s open to children as well as adults. But do men dance? Do women drum?
Yuma “Docta Yew” Bellomee, co-founder and director of Ni Dembaya, says that there aren’t many assigned gender roles in African dance. “Men are definitely encouraged to dance in our classes. Some men have apprehension about taking classes from women. But we have men teaching the classes off and on. In African society everybody dances. Same thing with women and drumming. There is no ‘women aren’t supposed to drum’ rule. Women shy away from it, but we encourage the women to drum as well.”
Dance fitness has many health benefits including cardiovascular, lower-body muscle strengthening and even curbing social anxiety.
Planet Fitness Coming Soon to Penn Branch
Get ready, Penn Branch neighbors! Planet Fitness is bringing its purple wave to your backyard this fall. This will be the first location in River East, and Chris Cavolo, CEO of Planet Fitness, says in a statement that it will be fully equipped to handle your fitness needs. (https://www.planetfitness.com/) “The new Planet Fitness Penn Branch is scheduled to open in December 2018. Our new 24-hour location will feature a vast selection of state of the art cardio, strength and functional equipment along with FREE fitness training, all in a clean, comfortable and friendly ‘judgment free’ environment.” The new club will also have the signature “Black Card Spa Area” that features hydromassage beds, hydromassage chairs, tanning beds and total body enhancement therapy. “We look forward to becoming a positive addition to the Penn Branch community,” the statement continues, “by offering both tremendous service at a great value and being a strong corporate citizen for this neighborhood.”
As with any form of exercise, you should check with your doctor first to ensure you are healthy enough for cardiovascular activity.
Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News. Follow her on Twitter @urbanbushwoman9.