Roxborough YMCA helps locals tackle obesity, diabetes and heart disease

 A woman participates in an exercise class at the Roxborough YMCA. (Kayla Cook and Sean Smith of Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

A woman participates in an exercise class at the Roxborough YMCA. (Kayla Cook and Sean Smith of Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recently joined 17 other mayors in asking congress to consider restricting the purchase of sugary drinks like soda with food stamps.

Melissa Russo, the health and wellness director at the Roxborough YMCA, couldn’t agree more with the Mayor’s position.

“To make [soda] purchasable with food stamps, we’re just feeding the problem,” she said. 

The “problem” Russo mentions is the same one that she and her co-workers at the Y are trying to help their members fight, the many health related issues facing residents of the city.

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Curbing obesity 

One of these main issues is weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68 percent of the city’s adults are considered to be either overweight or obese.

Recently, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease.

“It’s unfortunate [that] obesity in America has grown and not gone down,” Russo said. “One of our major goals is to grasp onto that small percentage of the population that we can and really get our hands around them to get them in the doors, to embrace our programs and see changes in their lives.”

The Roxborough Y offers a number of programs that aim to fight the weight problem in Philadelphia. They offer their membership a wide array of fitness equipment as well as group exercise classes, everything from high-energy cardio to mind relaxing yoga.

Setting an example for kids 

Kaleo Bird enjoys taking an intense martial arts based fitness program called Bodycombat. The mother of two takes advantage of the onsite childcare that the Y provides, which she said is crucial to her being able to exercise. She also sees a benefit to bringing her kids along with her as she works out.

“I think if your kids see you have a habit of exercise, that means that the next generation will have less of a chance of becoming obese.”

The Roxborough YMCA has a program that is directly aimed at teaching children the importance of eating right and working out regularly called the Fit Kids Program. Russo said that the program targets children aged eight to 15.

“It’s a crucial time for them to develop habits. If they can develop the proper habits at that age they are more likely to continue that throughout adulthood.”

Being a mother of an 8-year-old and 11-year-old, Russo knows how hard it can be to change the minds of children at that age, but said “repetition and teaching them why, not just the what, can really inspire them.”

Reducing risk of diabetes and heart disease 

Other health related issues many Philadelphians are facing are high blood pressure and diabetes. According to a survey conducted by the non-profit group Public Health Management Corporation, 36 percent of Philadelphia’s adult population has high blood pressure and 13 percent have diabetes, in each case Philadelphia is 5 percentage points higher than the national average.

Russo and her co-workers at the Roxborough YMCA do their best to help people in their area fight these issues.

One way this is done is through the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. The 16-week program is designed to reduce the risk of diabetes in individuals who may be showing pre-diabetic symptoms.

The goals of the classroom based program are to get participants’ body weight reduced by seven percent, along with increasing participants physical activity to two and a half hours a week. To qualify for the program, participants must be 18 years of age or older, be overweight and be at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Targeted programs for seniors 

Sarah Wilson is the membership director and estimates 35 to 40 percent of the Roxborough Y’s members are Seniors. Among the more popular programs available to the 65 and over crowd is the SilverSneakers Program.

“SilverSneakers is a health and wellness brand that works with certain insurance companies and it’s usually people who are over 65 years old,” Wilson said. “They cover their membership 100 percent and they also offer classes that are very low impact.”

Shirley Mann participates in the program and says the cost is covered through her insurance provider.

“It has just done wonders for me in terms of increasing my ability and how flexible I am,” she said. 

She has also taken advantage of some other programs that are offered to Seniors, including Tai Chi and walking classes.

For more information about the programming at Roxborough YMCA, visit their website or contact them via phone at (215) 482-3900.

Sean Smith and Kayla Cook are Temple University students.  This piece was produced in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks. 

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