When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill two years ago, almost every industry had to change the way they do things; gymnasiums were no different.
Days after the shutdown began, the State College YMCA found a way to continue offering exercise classes to its members. Using Zoom, classes could take place online.
Joshua Cone, senior director of wellness at the State College branch of the Center County YMCA, said that while things continue to reopen and they are offering in-person classes again, there are still people who take online courses. He estimated that between 100 and 150 people participate in online classes each week.
The reason for choosing to participate online varies from being aware of COVID to wanting to avoid driving in bad weather. But by making it an option early in the pandemic, the YMCA was able to retain its membership, Cone said.
“I think it was really beneficial to help maintain that connection with people throughout this time, at least virtually. Not everyone is a classy person. But I’ve seen people who aren’t classy people who took it because they couldn’t do anything but all those people who took classes, it was really beneficial to help them stay in touch with the Y and keep them in touch with the other people in the class,” Cone said.
The YMCA has also recorded classes on YouTube and its website for those unable to attend a live class.
Live classes currently available via Zoom include “total fitness for active adults”, “movement, stretching, strength and balance”, “gentle yoga” and “cycling with a trainer”. Several courses are intended for seniors.
The senior classes have “kinda” taken off, Cone said. For example, in the general yoga class, chairs are taken out and part of the yoga is done sitting on a chair.
“Like active adults in total fitness, they take a little break in the middle and do cardiovascular work in the first half of the class. The second half of the class is a little strength class,” Cone said.
Although various COVID restrictions are beginning to ease and most classes are held in person, Cone said, a large portion of senior classes are available online. He said it might end up staying that way beyond COVID, depending on the needs of that demographic.
Beyond physical health and fitness, Cone made sure there was a mental health aspect to classes and at the YMCA as well, as many seniors were isolated and alone during the pandemic.
“Through Zoom we tried to have little talk times where they could talk to each other and I was actually stepping away from the camera to let them interact with each other in groups … and just talk to each other a bit about what was happening,” Cone said.
They had their minds and bodies in place before the pandemic, but since then he said they have tried to make a special effort to organize different activities for seniors, such as lunches and songs.
“We just really tried to bring this group together after a few years of isolation. We have group exercise classes, you know, whether it’s yoga, cardio fitness classes, or active adult strength classes,” Cone said. “We have a day where we have coffee. And the point of these types of events, whether it’s seniors lunch or coffee time, is to get these people to sit down and talk together, to socialize for their sanity.
A “really cool bunch” of people go to State College YMCA, Cone said, and they care about each other. He thinks having classes virtually over the past two years has helped keep a lot of people healthy and sane.