Debbie King knows how much moving your body can help your mind. And during the latest round of pandemic lockdowns, she came up with a way to encourage her Parkdale neighbours to do just that. It’s as easy as ABC.
With Parkdale FitPlay, the challenge is simple: Choose a park in the area and pick a word. Once you make it to the park — maybe by taking a walk with a housemate, from a distance with a neighbour or by yourself — use King’s alphabet key of corresponding exercises to spell out your word and create a workout on the spot.
“We’re really just encouraging people to get out and to move in their own time, their own space in their own way that feels good to them,” King said.
“(It’s) not necessarily about ... doing better or faster, more than anybody else. But just finding that consistent motivation to get out,” she said. And better yet, for free.
The four-week challenge runs until the end of February and every week participants have a chance to win a prize from a local business sponsor by engaging online.
“It’s just been heartwarming to see people reach out to each other and connect ... after being apart for so long,” said Anna Bartula, the executive director of Parkdale Village BIA which helped arrange the sponsor prizes from local businesses.
Especially since Toronto returned to lockdown measures as it started to get colder and darker outside, King thought it would be important for people to get active — even if there’s snow on the ground.
“It became all that more important to really focus time on our well-being, on physical movement, on getting fresh air,” King said. “Doing all the things that we know will benefit our physical and our mental well-being during this time.”
Lockdown measures have since been extended in Toronto until Feb. 22.
To help show participants how to do the various exercises, King saw an opportunity to spotlight Black fitness leaders from Parkdale.
“I’ve had the pleasure and honour of working with so many different fitness leaders, and wellness experts that aren’t always at the forefront of the conversation,” King said.
She connected with Black people in the industry from several backgrounds — yoga instructor, baseball coach, track athlete and boxing coach to name a few.
On the Parkdale FitPlay Instagram account, these instructors take turns demonstrating how to do exercises with proper form.
Emile Reed of the Boxing Loft shows everyone how to throw a jab punch, while Oneil Barnes, a baseball coach, demonstrates a side shuffle. And if you’re looking for less intense moves, Rochelle Miller leads a yoga flow to unwind.
One of the collaborators, Stella Isaac, fell into fitness leadership during the pandemic. A former long-jumper at York University, Isaac started teaching outdoor fitness classes “Salty Saturdays” last spring, when lockdown restrictions started to loosen.
It started with her family and maybe one neighbour, and pretty soon the crowd grew every week — a passerby even dropped her groceries on the curb to join, Isaac recalls.
The meetup, “Salty Saturdays” kept going until late fall, but has recently continued online for the rest of February in collaboration with Good Space studio.
“I really liked encouraging people to move, through the knowledge that I have,” Isaac said. “(Movement) has really grounded me.”
Both King and Isaac offered some advice on how we can all keep grounded and clear-headed as the pandemic continues to stretch
To get more physical activity, start by finding something that you enjoy. “That might be as simple as getting out for a walk down by the lake. It might be turning on some music in your apartment and just dancing,” King said.
Create circles and bonds with the people in your community. Keep up a community connection within guidelines, whether that’s with other parents, families, co-workers, people who live in the same building. “As we’ve had to isolate and distance, a lot of us have drawn in closer to our communities,” King said.
Isaac said, “Get a buddy who will get you to push outside of your comfort zone. Have somebody who can encourage you and hold you accountable.” Whether that means taking walks around the block with your roommate, or doing virtual sessions painting with friends who want to pick up the hobby.
Revisit what you’re passionate about. Isaac says now is a good time to quiet your mind and not overthink your passions — do I have time, will I be good — it’s worth it to just jump in.
Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Angelyn Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star