Bookmark and Share

Getting Your Fitness on in South Park

In a community ridden with significant health problems as a result of rising obesity rates,
some are fighting back in an atypical fashion: an hour of non-stop aerobic exercises.

Obesity_Rates title=

Click on the image for the latest obesity rates in Los Angeles.

Preserving The Urban Jungle
An overview of many aspects of the environment, including recycling, keeping green, and energy conservation and how people interact with it (both positively and negatively) within our designated neighborhood.
Staying Safe On The Bike
In a neighborhood with only one mile of bike lanes, people are out to improve bicycle infrastructure and safety.
Faces of the Street
Close to 9,000 men, women and children are homeless in South Los Angeles. While their struggles are similar, each has an individual story to share.

By Lizzie Pereira

Music echoes through the South Park gymnasium. Energizing electronic music sets the tone for what will be a grueling morning workout.

It is 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. While many people in the community are still asleep, the South Park aerobics class has started – an hour of constant movement that will be sure to leave puddles of sweat on the gym floor.

Using hand motions to correspond to the different steps, the instructor wordlessly leads the class of 13 women. They are ranging in ages from the middle school student, to the college student, to the mother, whose children watch from the sides attempting to mimic the motions.

Step up on the stepping block. Lift one leg. Swing arm. Step down. Repeat.

As the instructor pauses to change the song, most of the women continue to move, completely in synch despite the lack of music.

An hour later the music stops, but the workout is not complete. A brutal series of squats and calf exercises conclude the class.

“Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro. Cinco,” the instructor shouts. Some of the women cry out in pain, their leg muscles burning. By the end of the hour-long class, all 13 women are completely drenched in sweat.

To Daisy Garcia, a recreation assistant at South Park, this aerobics class has been life changing.

“Six years ago I came in for the aerobics class. I had just had back surgery, I was considered obese at the time. And I came in to finally start exercising and making a change to my lifestyle. From there I was offered a job,” she said.

Six years later, Garcia had dropped from a size 22 to a size 10.

“I took it slowly. And in the last two years I’ve seen some dramatic results,” she said.

Garcia noticed that in recent years, the aerobics class and the other programs offered at South Park have increased in popularity within the community. She said that after the holidays, things will pick up even more after people return from traveling, eager to burn off their holiday feasts.

She credits this boost to Brian Cox, the South Park Recreation Center’s director, who sought to change the park’s former reputation as a hub for gangs and violence. Several years ago he began working with some of the local gang leaders to improve the park’s safety. Cox was recently named a winner in the 8th Annual My Hero Film Festival for the impact he has had on the community. The award is scheduled to be presented on Dec. 15 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

In addition to the aerobics class, the park now offers teen programs, afterschool programs, basketball, football and more. Recreation coordinator Jerome Bryant, who began working at South Park six weeks ago, is currently starting a boot camp program as well.

Even though the park’s programs have seen a dramatic increase in participation in the last few years, both Garcia and Bryant said that it is sometimes difficult to encourage people to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially in a community with such high obesity rates and low incomes.

“Parents are working twice as much to pay the bills and bring food to the table. They don’t focus too much on getting the kids involved in activities. Most of the time the kids are by themselves at home, watching TV, playing video games. They’re definitely not exercising physically as much as they should be,” Garcia said.

What’s more is there is very little access to fresh produce in the surrounding neighborhoods, but plenty of fast food restaurants on every street. The afterschool and summer camp programs have, therefore, become an integral platform for encouraging healthier decision making for children. Garcia said they are trying to implement more education into their programs so that kids will make smarter decisions when choosing their afternoon snack or drink. While regular exercise is a crucial element to one’s health, she said that it is just as important to teach the community about healthy eating habits.

Bottom line, Bryant urges people to workout regularly and eat properly not just because of the numerous health benefits, but also to boost self-confidence, even if it proves to be more difficult in the low-income area.

“You can’t make anyone workout. That individual has to want to workout. Then they have to find the right program that is suitable for them. It’s really hard to get people to actually come out to the park and exercise,” he said.

Garcia hopes that her success with the programs at South Park will inspire people in the community to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives as well. She especially hopes that parents will make an effort to maintain healthy lifestyles for the sake of their children’s health. The younger children start exercising, she said, the more likely it is that they will prevent illness when they are older and integrate regular exercise into their routines. She said that the majority of the women who attend the class are incredibly satisfied with their results and she has noticed a change in their overall mood and self-confidence every time they return to the class.

"Something happens to you not just physically, but also mentally when you start taking care of your body," she said, "It's magical."

Vendors sold fruit outside of the gymnasium, providing healthy post-workout snacks.

While the surrounding community has very little access to produce and is often referred to as a "food desert", there is a farmer's market located on Central Avenue. It is open every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.