Local fitness programs highlight the benefit of exercise for all
By Tonilyn Hornung
A little physical activity goes a long way. It’s no secret your children will sleep better after jumping on a trampoline or taking time out to dance. It’s also no secret how much fun they’ll have while doing it. Making time for movement is important for a child’s overall health and sense of well-being. That’s why there are programs out there devoted to helping each and every child, despite their level of ability, stay active in fun and fantastic ways.
We sought out tips from a few local fitness programs to help you keep your children moving. Each facility has COVID restrictions in place, and those vary from virtual sessions to one-on-one sessions (with face coverings) and outdoor activities.
Embracing the full spectrum
Helping children with learning and physical differences to experience the benefits fitness offers is what drove Dina Kimmel to found We Rock The Spectrum Kid’s Gym For All Kids. As the mother of an autistic son, Kimmel saw the immense benefits that consistent movement afforded her child. She witnessed her son, after six months of regular activity, sleeping and eating better than he had previously. “We need to make sure our kids get movement not only for their physical health but for their mental health,” she says.
We Rock The Spectrum uses many different techniques to get your child’s body moving. “We assess each kiddo, so no two kids in any of our facilities have the same fitness plans,” Kimmel says. Their specialized equipment includes trampolines, various swings and even a zip line.
Kimmel says for those children who thrive with less instruction and more movement, it’s all about the dancing. “It’s really fun. We call it ‘fun fitness!’” she says.
We Rock the Spectrum has been open 10 years and has locations throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Regarding health precautions, Kimmel says the staff is diligent about face masks, face shields and gloves, and inform clients of their sanitizing processes and temperature taking. “We’ve been doing classes online,” she says. “We’re open one family at a time and now we’re open for private facility rentals. And we’ve also been able to be open for the special needs community and doing low-capacity open play.”
Making enjoyment abound at Leaps-n-Boundz in Los Angeles is one way co-owner Eric Amundson is keeping “fitness fun and motivating.” Amundson says he and his business partner started hosting workout sessions at a park in 2007, “and the business grew from there.”
The programs at Leaps-n-Boundz are sensory-based, which means that all of their curricula contain a movement component. Amundson says this is important for many of his clients who need daily sensory input to help them with regulation.
All of the participants have different sensory needs and different movement goals. To meet these needs, Leaps-n-Boundz offers many methods of movement, some of which include gymnastics, sports and aquatic activities. “When you don’t move your body, it’s harder to stay alert and focused,” Amundson says.
“Right now, we do one-on-one sessions outdoors in the yard or in the park where we’re able to maintain social distance,” Amundson says of the gym’s safety measures. “We’re masked and we also offer a Zoom option.” The pool is now open to limited capacity.
The body loves to move
While exercise is something many people bemoan, our bodies actually love it, says Dr. Teri Todd, Ph.D., associate professor and director of clinical operations for the Center of Achievement at California State University, Northridge. “The physiology of the body loves to be active. Then, we have the mental and physical health benefits coming from that.”
The Center of Achievement through Adapted Physical Activity at California State University Northridge has been providing internationally recognized adapted fitness programs for people with disabilities since 1971. The Center serves special needs children as young as age three and creates a positive environment for the entire family. “One of the rewarding aspects is seeing the parents supporting each other. That’s another component of the program,” says Tanya Bennett-Payne, clinic manager of operations.
The center offers three different programs within its children’s adapted fitness program and the first is therapeutic exercise. This employs techniques such as stretching and, if appropriate, using one of the facility’s warm water treatment pools as a therapeutic modality. The next is a focus on fundamental motor skills, including running, jumping and catching. The third takes those motor skills and puts them into game play. “What we try to do is to teach those basic skills so children feel competent,” Todd says. “Giving children that basic skill goes a long way to them enjoying being active.”
As of late February, the center was only offering video conferencing.
New meaning to horse play
For kids who enjoy being active outside and find spending time with animals helpful, Let’s Ride Therapy in Tujunga incorporates both. “When they go into that natural arena and meet and greet the horses, they come out completely different,” founder Ann Marriner says of the special needs children who are her clients. “They want to ride. They want to do everything.”
Let’s Ride is one of many equine therapy programs in our city. Others include Dream Catcher of Los Angeles Therapeutic Riding Centers in Long Beach, Ride On Therapeutic Horsemanship in Chatsworth, Shadow Hills Riding Club, Ahead With Horses in Shadow Hills, Special Equestrian Riding in Chatsworth, and Special Spirit Inc. in Sunland-Tujunga.
According to The Centers For Disease Control, riding and working around horses have been shown to increase balance, self-confidence and self-esteem.” Marriner says learning to ride and spending time with horses teaches children “responsibility, teamwork and how to work with animals and people.”
Sessions take place outside and masks must be worn, are not required while riding. Groups are limited to 3 riders and must stay six feet apart.
Building confidence, basking in smiles
Learning to work with your own body is another way to feel empowered. This is why ZOOZ Fitness, started in 2015 in Encino, removes any and all barriers to your child’s workout needs.
With an easily accessible space and individualized workout plans. “We want to focus on the skills that are going to help in life,” says Jake Weiner, founder and CEO of ZOOZ Fitness. These include pushing, pulling, balance work and single-sided movements.
The culture at ZOOZ centers on team effort, and Weiner says this approach creates a noticeable confidence in his athletes, “Week to week, we see them open up a little more. There are bright smiles and laughter,” he says.
And this confidence often folds into other areas such as relationships and school work. “When you learn how to channel your body physically, you’re that much better prepared to handle everything else,” Weiner says.
To keep exercisers safe, the indoor gym is still closed. “We do outdoor and in-person with masks and social distancing,” Weiner says. Zoom or any video platform is available for private and small-group options.
The benefits that physical movement offers need not be underestimated. “It not only stimulates your brain, but it also releases endorphins that can increase your mood,” says Amundson. This belief in the positive benefits that fitness offers is what drives the owners, instructors and administrators of these facilities to educate and support families with kids of all abilities.
Tonilyn Hornung is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, son, many furry friends, and never enough closet space.