CSUN grad student leads free bilingual fitness, health education classes in Sylmar

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CSUN grad student leads free bilingual fitness, health education classes in Sylmar


To make the transition easier from possibly being a couch potato during the last two COVID years to a healthier, more fit individual, a graduate-student-led health training and nutrition education program offers free, bilingual health education and fitness classes every Saturday through October at El Cariso Community Regional Park in Sylmar.

The group meets at the basketball court.

Saturday classes are a warm up toward the first-ever San Fernando Valley Mile, a one-mile walk/run/race down Maclay Avenue in San Fernando on Oct. 29 and sponsored by Cal State Northridge and insurance giant Anthem Inc.

The free program encourages personal healthcare and fitness for children starting at the age of 5, active adults and seniors. It focuses on strength, cardiovascular, mobility and flexibility training. Classes are structured with a warm up, cardio, strengthening and cool down features. There is access to physical therapists on site.

“The San Fernando Valley Mile and the Saturday program connects and coincides with our efforts to really reach out in a public health effort to the Valley, recognizing with the kids now we have physical inactivity, childhood obesity,” said Steven Loy, a kinesiology professor at Cal State Northridge. “With the adults, we have inactivity and obesity and other diseases, diabetes. My concern with seniors is their ability to move actively and safely. As individuals get a little bit older their fitness level decreases, their strength levels decrease, so it becomes an increased risk for falling.”

Loy knows physical activity can be beneficial for all age groups, which led to the idea of an event with a bar of entry most people can achieve.

“We give you the exercises most critical to walking, being more mobile to being safe and that you would work on these exercises during the week,” he said. “Sort of homework. Then you come back next Saturday, and we give you your new assignment.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, which can be broken into smaller amounts such as 22 minutes every day, or 30 minutes five times a week. They encourage building daily physical activity by going for a brisk walk or a hike, walking the dog, choosing the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, parking further away in the parking lot and walking the rest of the way, walking or cycling to run errands and getting off the bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way. The key is to move more and sit less.

Marisol L. Rivera, a community liaison with Anthem Inc. surveys communities to understand each of their specific needs.

She has been working with the Cal State Northridge’s kinesiology department since 2016.

“(Our goal) is to make our communities healthy one by one,” Rivera said. “We touch that one person and we know, especially within the communities that are underserved, our seniors, low-income communities, a lot of what they do is word of mouth. If we can get one person going, they will get the rest of the community going.”

Clinicians from Vargo Physical Therapy, which has 11 locations in the Antelope, Conejo, San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, are onsite for free during the Saturday training classes.

“(Participants) seem motivated to take advantage of the opportunity to exercise and meet the goal of the 3 WINS Fitness program and coming with little things that have either ailed them for some time or have creeped up since they started doing more activities related to this program,” said Erik Wolpert, Vargo’s regional director and partner. “New knee pain. Previous surgeries presented strength and flexibility situations they didn’t know were an issue until they started exercising. A few have foot pain and some with tight muscle of the lower extremities as well as some new arthritic symptoms.”

Wolpert said for the general populations those are not uncommon issues.

“But they are things that people oftentimes dismiss unless they present huge interferences in their life and or may even interfere with their initiation of getting physically fit or being more active,” he said.

Wolpert said COVID-19 restrictions shut down exercise opportunities, some people didn’t continue on their own or have the resources to rejoin once the shutdown was over.

“So, a lot of people have become deconditioned and we have seen a lot of increased fall accidents in the elderly population as well as general fitness decline,” he said. “Having the resources of gym and classes and Silver Sneaker programs, especially for our aging population, has been instrumental in keeping people healthy.”

Arlene Flores is a graduate student and program manager at Cal State Northridge’s 3 WINS Fitness, which has offered free exercise programs to the entire community since 2011.

Her focus for the Oct. 29 San Fernando Mile is children.

She works to develop gross motor skills.

“We help them with their endurance and just get them excited to be doing exercises, being healthy and being able to withstand that one mile whether they want to walk it, or run it, or skip it,” Flores said. “By the end of these eight months they will be able to do that without a problem.”

Her hope is that it will open doors to other future activities.

“Maybe they never thought about doing a sport and they are coming here and now they want to do basketball, or cross country or soccer,” Flores said. “The development skills we are doing in the program will help them be better at those skills if they want to continue on.”

Her peer, Garland Gibbs, focuses on active adults some of whom have been inactive during COVID-19 years while others continued exercising.

Gibbs stresses the best method to achieve a healthy lifestyle is to focus on your own goals.

“Each individual (should have) a specific goal,” he said. “Stick to what is specific to you and what you would like to uniquely accomplish whether that be running the mile faster, or even just completing a mile. Stick to your own training goals and train specifically for those goals.”

Gabrielle Villagra, also a graduate student and 3 WINS Fitness program manager, is focusing on building the endurance for the nearly 20 seniors or those with running or walking issues participating in the Saturday classes.



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