Pandemic Leads to Free Pop-Up Workout Program in DC

washington, d.c. residents missing gym time find substitute with public program

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A new organization in Washington, D.C. offers free weekly workout sessions, NPR reported. It started after gyms closed due to the pandemic and residents with high blood pressure and diabetes expressed their health concerns. Exercise has far more benefits than just weight loss.

Man doing pushups on grassy field
The benefits of exercise extend far beyond just weight loss, enhancing mood and attitude and contributing to the prevention of health issues. Photo By SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock

According to NPR, a new program called WEFITDC, which launched in June, was born of necessity. “Ward 8 native Mallory ‘Rocky’ Simpson works at a fitness and health club in Maryland, and he’s heard from a lot of people who tell him they can’t currently afford a gym membership,” the article said. “That’s part of why he co-founded WEFITDC, an organization that provides free weekly workouts among its wellness offerings. The events are mainly held in wards 7 and 8, but all residents from the D.C. region are welcome.”

The article said that the program’s benefits include a marketplace-style area with minority-owned health and wellness businesses vending it. It also addresses concerns by many Ward 8 residents who have diabetes and high blood pressure, which cause increased risks of contracting the coronavirus.

Not only can exercise lead to weight loss, but it provides many other benefits that often go unnoticed.

The Diabetes Connection

People often associate a poor diet with a risk of diabetes. However, it isn’t true that the relationship between unhealthy eating and diabetes is that simple or direct. Let’s start on some familiar ground.

“Exercise helps prevent weight gain, helps you lose weight, and helps prevent weight regain after you lose weight,” said Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Preventative Medicine at Mayo Clinic and Director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “Because of its strong impact on weight, exercise helps reduce your risk of developing many health conditions associated with obesity.”

This is the important connection between diabetes and the diet. Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, rather than being linked to simply sugar or calorie consumption.

“In this case, exercise has a direct effect on reducing your risk of diabetes,” Dr. Hensrud said. “Exercise makes muscle cells act like a sponge, taking glucose out of the blood stream and using it for energy.”

Exercise and Mood

Aside from the obvious physical health benefits, exercise can also put us in a better place mentally‚ÄĒsomething that many of us could use this year.

“Getting active not only helps you blow off steam when you’re stressed out, it also affects your brain chemistry in a way that improves your mood,” Dr. Hensrud said. “It helps bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Regular exercise can also increase self-confidence; it can relax you; and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.

“It can even improve your sleep, which is often disturbed by stress, depression, and anxiety.”

Finally, Dr. Hensrud said that all these benefits of exercise can combine and not only ease your stress levels but give you “a sense of command over your body and life.” The improvements to your mood will likely be supplemented by your improved physical appearance, killing two birds with one stone.

As the United States continues to face uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic, organizations like WEFITDC can help Americans stay in shape despite the closures of gyms. Accessible exercise programs can help with high blood pressure, which is linked to coronavirus risk; help prevent diabetes, which also raises the risks of contracting the virus; and improve our mood, which most people would welcome this year.

Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, M.D., MP.H., contributed to this article. Dr. Hensrud has been a member of the Mayo Clinic staff for 25 years and currently serves as Associate Professor of Nutrition and Preventive Medicine at Mayo Clinic and Director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. Dr. Hensrud holds four academic degrees: a B.S., an M.D., and Master’s Degrees in public health and nutrition sciences.