American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise
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Take a moment to think about the healthiest person you know. What do they do on a daily basis to maintain this vitality? Perhaps you can imagine them strolling through their local farmers’ market, preparing kale salads at home with their families, maybe jogging by morning and downward-dogging by night. Everything you may have just imagined (or what we’ve conjured up for you) is made possible by an environment that supports a healthy, active lifestyle.

But what if your world looks nothing like this? What if the place you live lacks access to healthy food and physical activity resources? What if your community is a food desert and has no safe sidewalks to speak of? How can people make healthy choices when they’re up against a culture supporting just the opposite?

Several communities within Richmond, VA, know this challenge all too well. Resources are scarce and these communities have been hit hard by the obesity epidemic. At least 30 percent of adults are affected by obesity, 11 percent have diabetes and 22 percent are physically inactive.

Though these are some disheartening statistics, there are major efforts underway to reinvigorate this community with health through strong fitness leadership, provided by groups like the Fitness Warriors.

The Sports Backers’ Fitness Warriors program trains residents of Richmond to become community fitness leaders. It is a volunteer-run organization that provides free physical activity experiences to thousands of Richmond residents who may otherwise lack access to or may be unable to afford fitness opportunities. Over the past six months, the program offered 40 free classes every week and more than 1,000 Richmond region residents attended a Warriors class for the first time, many of whom return week after week. 

Warriors spend six months completing an intensive training with the opportunity to earn an ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification through ACE’s Community Empowerment Scholarship program. But success in this job is not just about being well-trained in leading fitness classes; Warriors must be passionate and dedicated. They need to motivate, inspire and empower participants to become and stay active, and to fall in love with movement. One way they accomplish this is by creating a strong sense of community around physical activity.

Charles Holland, a Fitness Warrior alumni says, “We have truly stepped out of the class setting and become a family. We celebrate victories, failures, triumphs and defeats. We laugh and cry together. After every class, we show love with high fives and hugs, initiating new members with the phrase, ‘We all just sweat together; we're family now.’”

But the program isn’t just transformative for the participants; it can also spark change in the Fitness Warriors themselves. Charles says, “Aside from the physical benefits like increased strength and energy, I noticed that other areas in my life began to change as well. My personal relationships grew stronger. I have made one of the biggest strides in my life by facing my fear of public speaking. I gladly welcome new challenges and projects at work. Family and friends now seek out my advice to aid them along their fitness journeys. Through this process, I grew and continue to grow into the leader I envision myself to be.” 

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This program is a perfect example of how to transform a community from the inside out. Warriors go out and meet people where they already gather—places like senior homes, community centers, health clinics and churches—an important strategy to making movement accessible to all people, regardless of where they live. And it’s working. In just three years, the Fitness Warriors program has made a tremendous impact in Richmond.

Class participants report:

  • 71% increased energy
  • 52% improved flexibility
  • 55% greater endurance
  • 40% weight loss
  • 8.5% reduced medication

“The impact on the health of our participants has been nothing short of amazing. From dramatic reductions in BMI to members embarking on their first 10K race, quantifiable improvements in physical well-being are a direct result of Warriors leading the charge to help promote healthy lifestyle changes in our communities.” – Charles Holland  

Is it really possible for you to make a difference in your community? We believe it is. We believe everyone has what it takes to create great change. If you’re interested in learning more about Fitness Warriors or starting a similar program in your community, reach out to us at ACEadvocacy@acefitness.org.

ACE readies fitness professionals, health coaches and other wellness experts to contribute to the national response to the obesity epidemic and other chronic diseases. We are working to evolve the healthcare system so the professions we represent may become part of patient-centered care teams and help far more people become physically active and stay healthy. Find out more about ACE’s Advocacy and Outreach efforts.

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