Health & Fitness


Your Heart Wants You to Take the Plunge

Here at the YMCA, we believe in encouraging people no matter where they are in their health journeys. We strive to provide a variety of resources to help our members achieve their goals. An example of this includes pools, which are in nine of our facilities across Greater Oklahoma City. In these pools, thousands of adults and children have learned to swim, parents have thrown hundreds of birthday parties and, of course, swimmers have logged likely millions of laps at meets and as part of their exercise regimen.

Swimming targets every system in the body – from your head to your toes, and from your heart to your lungs. Swimming trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently and improves muscular strength and flexibility.2 It’s also easy on the joints, which makes it the perfect workout for any age and fitness level.3 If you’re looking for a vigorous yet low-impact workout, swimming might be for you.

We know at least one YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City member who agrees. Hisham Kanaa is a self-proclaimed “fish” who says he tries to swim about 20 laps every day at the North Side Y. Growing up in Syria, he initially swam for fun, but he developed such a love for it that he began to swim competitively in his youth. He was also an accomplished high diver. Nearly half a century later, and in a different country, his motivations for getting in the pool have now shifted. Mr. Kanaa’s doctor advised that either swimming or walking every day would help with blood circulation and keep his heart healthy. As someone who has been swimming almost his entire life, he seems pretty pleased with that “prescription.”

However, this is not an uncommon recommendation from doctors who see older patients. After all, blood circulation becomes more important as we age. But why is that?

There are many answers to this question, but one of them points to plaque build-up that forms in arteries. This accumulation of plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, making it more difficult for oxygen-rich blood to flow through the body.Oxygen-rich blood is essential to a properly functioning body since every cell, organ and tissue need oxygen. Plaque build-up weakens and damages the heart over time because the circulatory system’s efficiency and effectiveness diminish, and the heart has to work much harder as a result. Aerobic exercises like running and swimming help blood vessels keep free of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up) and can lead to new coronary vessels in your heart, which dramatically reduces the risks and severity of heart attacks.5

This brings us back to Mr. Kanaa and his swim routine.

As he engages in this aerobic exercise, he’s strengthening the most important muscle in the body: the heart. As his heart contracts more, it becomes more efficient at pumping, leading to better blood flow throughout his body. For about 3-4 hours a week, he’s basically asking his heart to do a fast, forceful sweep through his arteries to get oxygen and nutrients to the rest of his body.

The reason his arteries are able to do this so well is because swimming (and similar exercises) helps to keep them flexible and in good shape. This is similar to a ballerina who maintains her flexibility by practicing every day. As the saying goes, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ If Mr. Kanaa does this often enough (the typical recommendation is 150 minutes a week), a scenario in which plaque build-up is prevented, stalled or reversed is more likely to occur.

Swimming can work wonders on your heart and overall health. Even if the benefits weren’t as remarkable, Mr. Kanaa would probably still swim just as often. Without a pool, he’s a fish out of water.

If you don’t know how to swim, have no fear! We have swim lessons for people six months and older. Visit our programs page to learn more.

February is American Heart Month. We encourage you to take actions today that will keep your heart happy and get you where you want to go on your personal health journey. If you’re considering adding swimming or another aerobic exercise to your current workout routine, we advise that you consult with your physician beforehand.

1 Bethany, Earlywine Park, Edward L. Gaylord Downtown, Midwest City, Mitch Park, North Side, Rankin, Rockwell Plaza and Stillwater YMCAs.


A Correlation Between Heavy Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease

Most people have grown up learning about the many benefits of exercise. Working out burns calories, reduces the risk of heart disease, improves sleep quality, helps the body manage blood sugar and insulin levels, improves mental health, mood and more. The list goes on and on as far as the eye can see. What most people haven’t grown up learning, however, is that researchers are only beginning to get a more complete picture of exercise’s medicinal benefits.

Earlywine Park YMCA member, Carlene Hammonds, began to research ways to end Parkinson’s disease (PD) when her beloved husband, Rich, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, PD is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. The symptoms usually emerge slowly and, as the disease worsens, non-motor symptoms become more common. 

Carlene’s research led her to a report discussing the correlation between heavy exercise and an improvement in noticeable PD symptoms such as loss of muscle control, trembling, stiffness, slowness and impaired balance.

“If you have Parkinson’s disease and you want to delay the progression of your symptoms, you should exercise three times a week with your heart rate between 80 to 85 percent maximum. It is that simple,” said Daniel Corcos, a study co-lead author and professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University.1

Most Parkinson’s researchers agree that intensive exercise will help delay the progression of PD symptoms, however, the delay varies from person to person. Heavy exercise has been shown to significantly slow down the progress of PD because it keeps the mind and body connected. It seems that intense, coordinated exercise requires the brain to work together with the body and muscles. Other studies also focused on the positive chemical side effects of heavy exercise including increased blood flow, oxygen, and additional dopamine and endorphins in the brain.

Regardless of why it works, to the Hammonds, the existence of a solution – however temporary – was very encouraging. Carlene’s research pointed to a tangible solution, and Rich, who already enjoyed exercising, couldn’t help but see this as good news. To think that an increase in the frequency and intensity of Rich’s workouts could help his symptoms improve was reason enough to try. Rich began working out five to six days a week. He “took” exercise almost as one takes their daily medications.

Soon, they began to see that the research was onto something. Heavy exercise reversed Rich’s PD symptoms. For 17 years, Rich was doing much better than the neurologists had predicted. Everyone who knew of Rich’s story was amazed at the results. Early in 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions caused the Y to close, the family noticed that Rich’s Parkinson’s began to progress quickly.

Since re-opening, Rich has started working out intensely again trying to regain the muscle control and strength he had prior to the coronavirus restrictions. For motivation, he has set his sights on exceeding the Olympic weight-lifting record for his age group. 

The Hammonds family is thankful the Y is open so Rich can workout at the intensity his Parkinson’s disease requires. Many people like Rich rely heavily on our facilities for their physical health, which is part of what made shutting down in March and April so difficult.

We are hopeful that Virtual Y OKC will be able to offset any potential closures that happen in the future, as well as offer a safe environment for high-risk individuals to continue their health journey. It is our belief that Y members can continue to get a great workout with Virtual Y, even if it’s outside our facility walls.



6 Tips for Working Out From Home

COVID-19 precautions have wrecked many people’s routines, including mine. Not having the “right” equipment or, if I’m being honest, not having the motivation has made it difficult to get a great workout. In case you’re experiencing a similar slump or you’re looking into starting a workout regimen with Virtual Y OKC, I have a few tips that have proved useful over the past several months.

Tip #1: Go at your own pace
Whether it’s a prerecorded class or you’re just winging it, you can always pause, drink some water and get your breath back when you need to. I’ve found that an extra 30 seconds of rest can make a big difference in the quality of the workout. Some staples I always keep nearby are a nice glass of ice-cold water, a towel (that eyebrow sweat won’t wipe itself) and an HDMI cord to connect my laptop to my TV.

Tip #2: Find the right temperature
For my non-yoga workouts, I prefer a cooler temp in the house. This is easy to achieve in the winter – just open the windows. Since I’m not made of money, in the summer I just moved my bedroom fan into the living room and put it on full blast, angled at my workout space. For yoga-esque workouts, I like to be a bit warmer. This helps a lot with flexibility. Again, opening up a window in the summer was an easy (and cheap) way to achieve a warmer room. In the winter, I’ve started adding layers so I don’t run up the gas bill. Knee-length socks, leggings, a sweatshirt, etc. all help keep me nice and toasty. Finding the right temp is great, but making sure your clothes match the intent is an easy way to help that out. No one’s there to judge your attire (or lack thereof), unless, of course, your pets sit in the corner and stare at you judgmentally like mine do…

Tip #3: Move the furniture
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a coffee table smack dab in the middle of the living room. Our living room is prime real estate for at-home workout: it’s underneath a fan, it’s right in front of a TV, and most importantly, there’s a couch right behind – perfect for collapsing onto once I’m done with the workout. If you’re trying to figure out where best to exercise, pretend your easily moveable pieces of furniture just aren’t there. Chances are, you’ll be able to move a couch, a coffee table or a recliner to get enough space. Plus, depending on the furniture, moving it can be a great warm-up. 

Tip #4: No weight? No problem!
While you likely don’t have squat racks, benches with weights, 100s of dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance machines, so much can be done with what you have right there at home! You can get creative with household items (check out this post for weight alternatives). Body weight exercises can really get you that full-body burn. If you need ideas, Virtual Y can help you out. And, if you want some sort of multi-function exercise equipment, a couple resistance bands can cover most of your bases.

Tip #5: Go outside
Whether it’s moving your workout to the patio or your backyard or taking a walk around block – going outside is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being. If you choose to walk, run, bike or some combination, create an outdoor exercise playlist to level up your workout. I’ve created one that’s exactly 30 minutes (ok, technically it’s 29:57, but I feel like that’s close enough). I know when the playlist gets to Dura by Daddy Yankee, it’s time to head back because that’s the halfway point, and I know when Countdown by Beyonce comes on, I’m in the home stretch. The point is, if you’re getting bored working out in the same space, mix it up. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Tip #6: Make a plan
The hardest part about working out from home has been the execution. I start out with all these ideas and visions of me working out in my living room every day, happy to do it, looking forward to the workout, etc. and that just doesn’t happen for me. It’s hard for me to find the motivation to get up and get moving. What I’ve found to be helpful is instead of saying, “I’ll workout this week,” which is non-committal and allows me to keep pushing it off, I say, “I’ll spend half my lunch time on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 12 to 12:30 p.m. walking around the neighborhood listening to my very awesome and energizing playlist.” I put it in my calendar and set the notification for 15 minutes. This has been by far the most effective way for me to stay at least somewhat active the past few months.

So there you have it – my tips for working out at home. While this year has thrown a wrench in so many people’s plans, we can make the most of this “home” time and still meet our fitness goals. And with the new year behind us, there’s never been a better time to take that step and start a workout program. This time, you can plan to do it all from the comfort of your own home!



So you’ve decided to check out Virtual Y, but only one problem – you’re not sure where to start. I’ve combed through the site with fresh eyes to try and give you the best tips for using this online exercise platform.

Tip #1: Start with what’s most comfortable 

If you’re more into strength training, complete those videos first. If you’re used to yoga, watch those before moving to others, and likewise for HIIT workouts. It’s easiest to get comfortable doing an instructor-led workout in front of a screen when it‘s a familiar exercise routine. It’s way less intimidating when you already know what to expect.

Tip #2: Create a schedule

One of the best things you can do to ensure a successful workout regimen is plan ahead. At the beginning of the week, plan what kinds of workouts you’d like to do and then map them out on a calendar. Since you know your body better than anyone else, you come up with which days you’ll do which exercises.

For example, let’s say I know I want to do cardio, a HIIT workout, yoga and general strength-training. It’s hard to workout on the weekends with my husband and kid home all day, so I’ll designate my intentional exercise days as Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Since I’m working from home, I’ll do each one during lunch.

  1. I like running (alright, you caught me – walk/jogging) around the neighborhood for a good cardio workout, so I will check the weather on Sunday. Looks like Monday is the best day to do that.
  2. If I’m doing full-body strength-training, I’ll need a day off to recover, so I’ll plan to do that on Tuesday.
  3. The middle of the week can feel extra stressful sometimes, so I’ll plan to do yoga on Thursday.
  4. I love a good Friday workout to blow off some steam as I head into the weekend, so I’ll plan for the HIIT class that afternoon.

It can really be that simple.

Tip #3: Don’t overdo it

No, seriously. It can be easy to lose track of time when you’re working out from home. It can also be tempting to try out every single video on the platform. Don’t do it. Stick to your schedule! You’ll be better off and won’t get burnt out as quickly.

Tip #4: Have all your equipment ready to go

Before you start your workout, check to see what kind of equipment is needed for the class. If you see any equipment listed that you don’t have at home already, make sure you’ve got good substitutions if you plan to use more than your body weight. We’ve got a great article with ideas on good at-home alternatives.

Having everything ready to go also saves you time so you’re not scrambling around trying to find what you need in the middle of the workout. I find gathering these substitutions helps me get into an exercise state of mind. I also get excited about seeing how these alternatives will hold up.

With these tips under your belt, you’ll be sure to have consistently great at-home workouts using Virtual Y OKC.


Turn Those Household Items into Gym Equipment

While prepping for a Virtual Y workout, I noticed the instructor had dumbbells and kettlebells lying on the ground next to her. I panicked – how was I supposed to complete the workout if I didn’t have the equipment? This sent me on a scavenger hunt around the house to find replacements that I could use instead. I ended up finding loads of household goods and ideas for workout alternatives. If you’re like me and haven’t invested in at-home gym equipment, use this as a guide to find your own household substitutions.

Since everyone is at a different point in their fitness journey and looking for different things from a workout, I’ve split up these alternatives by desired weight.

If you’re looking for 1-3 lbs. each:

  • Canned goods
  • Large, full bottles of shampoo, conditioner or body wash
    • I used the jumbo size bottles (32oz, I think) and they were kind of awkward to hold. I’d suggest using these when you do side lifts or other similar exercises where you can hold them from the top or the bottom. You shouldn’t encounter the same issue with smaller bottles.
  • Filled reusable water bottles
  • Hardback books
    • Grab the biggest hardcover book that you can hold with one hand and prepare to be amazed.
  • Cast iron pots and pans
    • I used mine for arm circles and they worked great. They do require a tad bit more coordination, so I’d avoid using these if you’ll have to be reaching behind you and over your head.
    • Bonus tip: The handles can start to hurt your palms after a while, so try to keep that in mind if you’re selecting cast iron kitchenware as a workout partner.

If you’re looking for 3-8 lbs. each:

  • Reusable grocery bags
    • What do you do if you can handle more cans of soup, but you can’t actually hold anymore? Put them in a reusable grocery bag or tote! Totes are great for more than just cans of soup – you can throw in some of the items listed in the previous section for an easy way to store the extra weight.
  • Detergent jugs
    • Dish or laundry detergent jugs work great. The handles make these very easy to lift and maneuver. 
  • Unopened box/package
    • This one can vary depending on what’s just been delivered.

If you’re looking for 8-15 lbs. each:

  • Backpack
    • This is a similar concept to the reusable grocery/tote bags, except you’re able to wear the backpack either on your front or back (or both if you have two backpacks and are in search of a challenge). Load up the backpack(s) with however much weight you’d like, and do some wall sits, squats or other similar workouts.
  • Gallon jugs
    • It’s best if these are filled with water (you know, just in case you drop them). If you’re looking for a real test, try doing arm circles while holding full gallon jugs. If you’re not quite there yet (like me!), the good news is you are in control of how full they are. Fill them up a quarter or halfway if needed.
  • Suitcase or duffel bag
    • If it is evenly filled, this can be a great solution to an at-home press (shoulder, military, bench, etc.) workout. Just be careful it’s not too heavy and avoid putting anything fragile in there on the off chance you drop it.

I hope you find some of these options helpful! As a bonus for making it this far, I’ll also suggest using old leggings as resistance bands- they’re just the right amount of stretchy. 

Happy exercising!

Disclaimer: I am not a personal trainer, I’m just a woman trying to find cheap and easy solutions to getting a gym-worthy workout without real gym equipment. As with any workout, use your best judgment, make good decisions and stay safe.


What Is Virtual Y OKC?

If you’re reading this, it means the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City has just launched Virtual Y. You may still have a few questions about what you’ve just gotten yourself into, so we’re going to try to answer a few common ones.

Why do we have an online workout platform?

The short answer is COVID-19. The long answer is that the pandemic has provoked entire industries to shift gears, and gyms like ours were not spared. The truth is that if people aren’t using our gyms, they’ll cancel their membership and find a different way to exercise- or forego working out entirely. When that happens, we can’t continue to do our community impact programs, to pay our staff, to offer childcare programs, and so on and so forth. Virtual Y is an answer to the problem of membership cancellations. We’re bringing the Y to you so you don’t have to leave the house to get a great workout.

What can I expect as a Virtual Y user?

Well, to be upfront, there will likely be growing pains associated with Virtual Y as we expand the platform and add more categories of videos. For now, you can expect several different types of workouts and classes starring our very own, and your favorite, instructors. We plan to add more videos every 2-4 weeks. There will also be a fitness blog with new articles uploaded once every other week. In February, we’ll begin uploading activity videos specifically for youth and families. Lastly, we plan to continue with Virtual Y long after the pandemic ends. This is something we’ve invested in and hope our members can really take advantage of. The point is that this platform will continue to grow and evolve over time to best fit the needs of our members who use it.

How can I take advantage of Virtual Y OKC?

How can you make sure you’re taking advantage of Virtual Y? That’s an easy one- use it! Log on and see if there’s something for you and give it a try. There are short videos, long videos and this blog will feature a few tips and tricks. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know! In the meantime, check out this article for tips on using Virtual Y.

We are really excited about Virtual Y and all it has to offer. We hope you can take advantage of this tool in the months to come.


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