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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Mental Health and Exercise: Making the Connection

How do the mind and body go hand in hand?

For me, [fitness] has become even more of a passion of mine because of the pandemic,” says Carol Nalevanko. “Fitness facilities [had] been put into the entertainment category with movies and bars. That was so wrong and so damaging, what the pandemic has done to our reputation. We’re not entertainment, we are healthcare, and I’ve seen with my own eyes what healthy lifestyles can do to people. We reopened and people said, ‘Thank god you’re back, I need the Village.’” 

Nalevanko, President of Village Health Clubs and DMB Sports Clubs in the Valley area, sat down for an interview with Green Living to discuss the impact of physical activity on mental health. The Village is an all-inclusive health and wellness club with multiple locations, offering a myriad of holistic options for people looking to heal the mind, body and soul.

During the height of the pandemic, the Village lost 42% of their members, who either froze or canceled their memberships. With Arizona’s multiple state shutdowns in response to COVID, Village Health Clubs were shut down for almost 5 and a half months.

“It was terrible. Not just losing revenue, but also being thought of as an unsafe place to go,” says Nalevanko. “Third party studies show [that the] positivity rate inside of fitness facilities is extremely low. Healthy people are here. 70% of people who had covid were obese and have comorbidities, so healthy people are at the clubs.”

Nalevanko strongly believes that exercise is medicine, and that physical and mental fitness are equally important. She also added that exercise gives you a spring in your step. “People who exercise have a high level of self esteem and confidence. They have a good, happy feeling about life in general.”

Since the Village has a reputation as a gathering ground for social activities centered around health and wellness, members struggled during the pandemic to find that sense of connectedness. 

“They didn’t have a place to belong, feelings of isolation, depression. We started bringing back smaller social activities outdoors so that they were safe and people felt safe. We had wine tastings, cooking classes, women’s connection groups… People were starving to be back with their friends and be back with a sense of community that they [lost]. People missed people – it was like kids coming back to school.”

The Village has noticed a dramatic increase in sign-ups and memberships since they reopened to the public. In addition to the fitness classes and equipment that they offer, their amenities go far beyond the run-of-the-mill YMCA; meditation and yoga classes, full-service spas, chiropractic providers and nutrition counseling and education programs are all available for guests to take advantage of in-house. Programs like their Women Connection Groups are a “lifesaver for women who just want to be with other people,” according to Nalevanko. “It’s always just about connecting people with other people. We see it every day. and that’s why it’s so fun to work here.”

The Ocotillo Village location.

On a personal level, Nalevanko enjoys staying physically and mentally fit through pilates, tennis and golf.

When asked to give some tips to people who may be unmotivated to exercise or need help getting out of a discouraging headspace, she suggested starting small. For example, adopt a simple daily walk or bike ride routine and eventually increase it to least 3 times per week.

“Join an organized exercise facility or fitness facility,” Nalevanko continued. “There’s all kinds of variety for you and things you can try. You don’t come to a health club because of a treadmill, you come to it because of your friends. Once you have that feeling of belonging, you want to keep coming back and committing, and then you’ll start to receive your wellness benefits. It’s all about moving. You’ve got to walk out the door.”

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