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Accessible Healthcare

Filling A Prescription for Free Neighborhood Fitness

When you walk into Capital Area Health Network’s Northside Medical Center, you are greeted by friendly staff and shown to a waiting room with warm, calming colors on the walls. The TV runs a bright cartoon featuring bilingual characters and the room feels welcoming to all, a safe space to seek free or affordable care.

Patients frequent CAHN’s six locations for an array of services ranging from pediatrics to adult primary care, mental health, dental care and everything in between. They often leave with prescriptions after visiting Dayna Vango, Nurse Practitioner, or another provider. Some prescriptions can be filled at a pharmacy, but others need to be filled at a community center, senior apartment, church, or library: through the Exercise RX program, providers at CAHN are now prescribing that some patients should improve their health by working out among their peers for an hour a week.

“Physical fitness is important to not just my patients, but everyone, because it releases the healthy endorphins that promote healthy thinking, healthy feelings, just overall well-being,” explains Ms. Vango.

Exercise RX is a partnership between CAHN and Fitness Warriors, a program of SportsBackers that provides free fitness instructor training and certification for community members who then teach free classes in their communities. In a city where more than 1 in 5 adults report living a sedentary lifestyle (2018 County Health Rankings), access to exercise classes is a must for protecting our communities’ health.

However, many Richmonders can’t afford to pay the price tag that often comes with gyms, classes, equipment, or personal trainers. Even taking a walk through the neighborhood for exercise can be challenging for many Richmonders due to external factors. “We have neighborhoods where the patients don’t feel safe walking in their neighborhood,” Ms. Vango points out.

That’s why free classes led by vivacious and talented instructors are so valuable for CAHN patients and others in Richmond who are on a limited budget and want to improve their health. “I really got active in making sure I was prescribing it 99% of the time,” says Ms. Vango. Her personal experience further encouraged her to recommend it to patients. “I went to one of the classes myself, and it’s encouraging and it’s not intimidating. They alter the classes so they would benefit everyone. So if you couldn’t do the activity that was asked, they got a modified version of the activity that you can do at your own pace.”

Fitness Warriors classes are offered all over Richmond City Monday-Saturday, as well as the surrounding counties. To find a class near you, check out their full offering of classes at various locations here.

Dayna Vango, Nurse Practitioner, Capital Area Health Network

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