Nonprofit Gym Helps Low-Income Community Get Fit In many low-income neighborhoods, obesity and diabetes are huge problems. Fear of crime and traffic keep many residents from exercising outdoors, and indoor gyms are often too few and too expensive. Healthworks, a nonprofit fitness center in Boston, is trying to change that.
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Nonprofit Gym Helps Low-Income Community Get Fit

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Nonprofit Gym Helps Low-Income Community Get Fit

Nonprofit Gym Helps Low-Income Community Get Fit

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now, it's not always easy for people in low-income neighborhoods to get a little exercise. There usually aren't very many gyms. In those same areas, obesity and diabetes are huge problems. One Boston fitness center is trying to change that, as Sacha Pfeiffer reports from member station WBUR.

INSKEEP: ...five, six, seven, and...

SACHA PFEIFFER: But none of these women have lean, sculpted bodies. Most of them are where 36- year-old Tamica Toney was less than a year ago.

M: Where I was is that I was obese. I was 252 pounds. No health problems, thank God for that. No sugar, no diabetes, no high cholesterol. But that was not healthy, because eventually those problems would have came on. Now I am a total of 170 even.

PFEIFFER: So you've taken 80 pounds off?

M: Yes, and this is just from no gastro, no lap-band, no diets. I come every day, Monday through Friday. I am up to running three miles a day.

PFEIFFER: Toney says exercising at all in this working-class, ethnic neighborhood wasn't easy before this nonprofit gym, called Healthworks, opened. The few fitness centers around were too expensive or too crowded, she says. And she likes that Healthworks is for women only, since wearing spandex and sweat pants at a coed gym can be humiliating when you're 100 pounds overweight.

M: I didn't feel ashamed or embarrassed of being big, coming up in the gym, because we all understand each other - versus with men and women, it's discouraging.

PFEIFFER: Mary Shaw agrees. She's 51 and comes to Healthworks six days a week. She says fear of crime and traffic keep her from exercising outdoors.

M: So many people here are obese and they want to walk, and it is really unsafe. I don't care what nobody else say, it is unsafe.

PFEIFFER: Shaw comes here because she can afford it. She lost her job cleaning trains for Amtrak about a year ago, but this gym costs her just $10 a month. Membership fees are based on income. The most anyone pays is $30. And nearby doctors hand out free vouchers to the gym for patients who would benefit from exercise. That affordability lets folks in this neighborhood do what many people in more well-to-do areas take for granted.

M: In middle-income communities, there's somehow an expectation that you're going to have access to gyms. But when you're in a low-income community, that stuff doesn't exist.

PFEIFFER: Walczak says this neighborhood, and neighborhoods like it around the country, hunger for fitness centers like this.

M: We're just tip of the iceberg right here, in terms of the actual need of this community to have access to indoor gyms, where they can exercise.

PFEIFFER: Of course, Tamica Toney, the woman who dropped 80 pounds working out here, needs more than a new swimsuit now. She needs a whole new wardrobe.

M: I can't wait to get this next 20 pounds off of me, baby. Get cut up, get them abs coming through. Then I'm going to shop until I - can't drop.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PFEIFFER: For NPR News, I'm Sacha Pfeiffer, in Boston.

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