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Downtown Fit Connects Gloucester’s Main Street

downtown fit

The couple that sweats together, stays together. Right? Study after study has proven the effectiveness of partner workouts.
But what if you set out to bring an entire community together to sweat it out on nearly a daily basis? If the theory holds true, wouldn’t that connect community more deeply to each other? Gloucester is out to prove that it does.

Enter Downtown Fit, a free community fitness program that recently launched on Gloucester’s Main Street. Presented by the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust (MSPT) and Riverside Health System, Downtown Fit offers free group fitness classes from May to October in the large grassy area on the corner of Heron Cove Way and Main Street.

“It’s incredible to see so many fitness partners coming together to do something new and innovative for our community,” says Jenny Crittenden, executive director of the MSPT.

Crittenden was the one who presented the idea to a group of community and business leaders last year after attending a conference and learning that fitness programs — especially free community programs — can act as an economic catalyst for a region.

“I am always looking for new and innovative ways of economic development,” Crittenden says. “We look for ways to connect people. We look for ways to engage people. This program fit perfectly. It creates a community within our community.”
And the community has responded.

Riverside Health System, which operates a wellness and fitness center in Gloucester next to its Walter Reed Hospital, offered up support in planning and launching the program and use of the grassy field for the classes to take place. The Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce stepped in, too, helping get the word out to all fitness businesses and instructors in Gloucester.

By the time the program officially launched in June, the fitness partners offering up instructors for the free classes (ranging from tai chi to boot camps, yoga to Zumba, Tabata to PIYO), included Riverside, Pivot Performance, the YMCA, Gloucester County Parks and Recreation, Anytime Fitness, Gloucester Yoga and Bethany Zoll Yoga Teacher.

Many of the first classes started seeing upwards of 20 participants at a time. Gloucester native Jennifer Dutton Haggerty, executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Association, was one of them. Haggerty had never done yoga before, but thought the “Gentle Yoga” class would be a good opportunity to give it a try in a judgement-free zone.

“Now I even understand yoga language,” Haggerty says, “and thanks to these classes, I have learned that yoga is way more than learning to properly touch your toes.”

It was important, Crittenden says, to make the program as inclusive as possible by offering classes for all fitness levels. “We’re at a point now where there are some weeks with something going on five days a week and some days with classes being taught in the morning and evening.”

As for that added benefit of fitness programs contributing to the economic health of a region? Main Street is starting to see that already, too.

“People are shopping and dining after classes or before,” Crittenden says. “They are connecting not only with each other, but also with our downtown and its business owners.”

More importantly, they are connecting with their health.

“It is our hope that people will use this — a free program — to start to place wellness as a priority in their life,” Crittenden said. “And in the end, that benefits us all — the entire community.”

Benefits of Community Group Workouts

Improves the Efficiency of Your Workout

You may not be able to feel it, but just having someone present with you when you work out helps boost you up, according to Psychology Today, citing the “long-standing concept in social psychology that the mere presence of someone else affects your ability to do an activity.”

Helps You Reach Weight Loss Goals

In a study published by the National Institute of Health, participants who recruited friends to work out and lose weight with had greater weight losses — and kept the weight off for longer periods of time. A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine further showcased that people who work out in a group or with a partner doubled the time they worked out as compared to those who work out alone.

Encourages You to Push Yourself Harder

When you work out in a group, you’re more likely to push yourself harder and further than you might if working out alone, confirmed a study published by the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Besides, when you are working out in a group, if you do start to get tired or want to quit, chances are the group will rally around you, cheering you on to keep going.

Decreases Stress

We all know that just the act of exercising releases good-feeling endorphins. But working out with a friend or in a group setting can amplify those stress-relieving feelings. According to the International Journal of Stress Management, participants in a study who worked out for 30 minutes with a friend reported feeling calmer after exercising than those who went at it alone.

Get Downtown Fit on Gloucester’s Main Street

WHAT: Free community group fitness classes held on Gloucester’s Main Street. Fitness classes range in fitness level from beginner to advanced, and include, among other workouts, tai chi, yoga, Zumba, boot camps and PIYO.
WHEN: Various times throughout the day, several days of the week, including weekends and some holidays. To view a complete calendar listing and select a class you want to attend, visit getdowntownfit.com.
WHERE: Classes take place in the grassy field on Gloucester Main Street at the intersection of Heron Cove Way and Main Street (use Riverside Health System’s Sanders Retirement Community gazebo overlooking Main Street and Lulu Birds Kitchen restaurant as landmarks).
WANT TO GET INVOLVED? Licensed trainers are welcome to offer their own classes as part of this program. Interested in leading a community fitness class of your own? Contact Jenny Crittenden, executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust, at director@mspt.org.

About the author

Stephanie Heinatz

Stephanie Heinatz is a writer based in Gloucester, Va. and owner of Consociate Media. Following more than a decade of reporting and writing across various media, Stephanie founded the writing and communications firm and continues to share stories related to healthcare trends, hospitality, fitness, military training and business.

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