All our lives we hear how important it is to exercise, have diets low in fat and carbohydrates, and make our plates colorful with vegetables. It’s hard for those of us with time and the resources needed to hold a gym membership and plan healthy meals to practice these good habits. Arlington Free Clinic’s patients are almost universally balancing tremendous work and family responsibilities on extremely tight budgets with little chance to catch their breath. It’s hard to fault someone for being unable to muster the energy to exercise after spending a back-breaking day working a construction site or cleaning homes. Acknowledging that we can’t simply prescribe “healthy choices” to patients for whom it’s hardly a matter of choice at all, for the past several years, AFC has been developing a program called Move to Health to support our patients’ progress in practical and realistic ways.
AFC had been offering highly attended group exercise classes in our conference room twice a week. Patients were showing up after a long day at work, bringing their children, and building community and accountability. Then the pandemic hit, putting a halt to group gatherings, and threatening to dampen the great momentum we had achieved. Our wonderful volunteers quickly rallied to keep the exercise classes alive via Zoom.
We recently celebrated with some of our patients who met our challenge of attending at least four Zoom exercise classes during the month of February. Eight women went above and beyond, with some attending up to eight!
We asked participants to keep their cameras on in February because a gift card prize was at stake. Additionally, one of the goals of the classes is to provide patients with exercise modifications to meet their physical needs. Not being in-person has made this difficult, especially as cameras were usually off.
We thought we understood the barriers our patients faced along their paths to better health, but we didn’t anticipate what an eye-opening experience it would be having a literal lens into their lives. Patients went to great lengths to attend classes – often racing in from their jobs as the class was in session. A few were babysitting small children while trying to do their exercises, providing great levity to class, and adding additional weight to the ladies’ bridge poses. Other family members would join in for a few jumping jacks while passing through the room before moving on. Family pets also added some comic relief.
Now that the days are longer and the weather is warmer, we will be holding classes outdoors on the lawn of the Walter Reed Community Center. The coaches and patients are all looking forward to being face to face once again.