UPMC Offers a Free Exercise Program for City Residents in Harrisburg

By: Sierra Lomax

According to the CDC, exercise and a nutritious diet can help improve your health and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart attack, diabetes, and stroke. Healthy Harrisburg, a free exercise program, was launched in collaboration with Harrisburg Park to help to improve access to health care for people of color. 

“This program was created to combat social determinants of health and to meet the needs of city residents who don’t have health insurance or transportation access to gyms,” said Jankail Adams, PMP, project manager, Mission Effectiveness Diversity, and Inclusion, for UPMC in Central Pa.    

Funded through the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation, Healthy Harrisburg offers eight weeks of free daily fitness classes each quarter. Classes are held every evening and taught by certified health instructors from the community. 

“We were expecting to offer classes for two years, but we are now entering our fourth year of programming,” Adams added. 

In Harrisburg, there are no gyms within the city limits. Healthy Harrisburg helps to meet the needs of people who desire to prioritize their health but may lack the resources to do so. 

On average, the participants are predominantly black and brown women ranging from 50 to 53 years old. Although the classes were originally intended to meet the need for low-income residents, no one is turned away and everyone is encouraged to attend, Adams said. 

Initially the program only offered Zumba exercise classes but due to the growth of the program, participants can now choose from several classes including African dance, Xtreme Hip-Hop, yoga, and soul line dancing classes. However, the exercise classes are just a portion of the program. 

Healthy Harrisburg also partners with a staff of doctors and nurses who collect health assessments for the participants. The health assessments ask for data such as weight, age and blood pressure. They serve as a tool that can be used to help participants track their progress. 

“We host virtual health and wellness education classes, and we ask participants to bring their assessments so that we can teach them what those numbers are. These assessments have helped us catch people who were on the verge of a health crisis,” said Adams. 

Kristal Turner-Childs, a former PA state trooper, became a certified fitness coach after losing 100 pounds. 

“Fitness can be discouraging sometimes, but I wanted to teach others how to meet their goals and to find what works for them,” said Turner-Childs. I used to be on five blood pressure medications, but with lifestyle changes and consistency, I am no longer taking them.” 

Turner-Childs is now a Healthy Harrisburg Program Ambassador and teaches four classes per week with an average of 80 to 100 attendees, ranging from soul line dancing to HIIT sessions.  

“There is so much comradery and support from the participants. It really is a place for everyone,” Turner-Childs said. 

Sessions are expected to begin again in January 2024. For more information about the Healthy Harrisburg Program, please visit UPMC in Central Pa.