Harlem Word: Nancy Bruning talks about why she started helping people get healthy through fitness

Editor May 13th, 2010

Nancy Bruning, MPH, has been providing free fitness instruction in many New York City parks throughout Northern Manhattan for several years. With her public health experience, her instruction is aimed at addressing obesity in Northern Manhattan neighborhoods. Learn more below!

Q: What got you interested in a public health career?

A: Exercise and health has always been a part of my life. I have always been in tune with exercise as a part of my lifestyle, rather than just going to the gym. As a kid, I grew up in New York City so I did a lot of bike-riding, roller skating, and walking. I walked to school, to the park, and to the library.

Over the years, I have authored and co-authored several books about health and fitness. I wrote these books with a formal education in art, but a personal interest in science and health. At some point, I started to become physically active in a more formal way. I got massage and personal trainer certificates, started yoga, began lifting weights, and took aerobics classes. Physical activity and health were so important to me that I got my master's degree in public health in 2006.

Q: Why did you start providing exercise instruction in New York City parks?

A: Living in Northern Manhattan made me more aware of parks because a lot of land in Northern Manhattan is park land and it's convenient for me to use them. Being near Fort Tryon Park, Inwood Park, and High Bridge Park is definitely an advantage to living up here.

During my education, I learned that there is a huge Latina population in Northern Manhattan who has problems with obesity and the related diseases like diabetes. I wanted to create culturally appropriate ways to help Latinas become more physically active. I learned that many of them are from small towns or rural areas. Being outdoors is more appropriate for them than going to the gym. I found out that being more interested in outdoor activity is not just the case for Latinas; lots of people would rather be outside than in a gym. Using parks for physical activity and fitness is one way to help people who are overweight in Northern Manhattan.

Q: Can you tell us more about the exercise programs you've been involved with in Northern Manhattan Parks?

A: In 2003, I worked with three other trainers for a Parks Department program in Jay Hood Wright Park in Washington Heights. I was the trainer who did fitness walks. I took people around the park several times for a cardiovascular workout. Next, we would use equipment for stretching and strengthening. The walks evolved into a full-body workout based on walking in the park. Unfortunately, the program ended after eight weeks, and on the last day, everybody cried because the program was over. It was more than just a program; it was a community.

Through this program, I realized that the fitness walks could be useful for other groups of people. Since I was already president of Friends of Fort Tryon Park, I wanted to start a fitness program there. It ended up being very successful. Now it's still going on, in its sixth year. The program is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. throughout the year for free. On Saturdays, we don't make a circuit of the park. We end at the Ann Loftus Playground and I give the group the option of walking with me to the green market so they can buy fresh produce. Since beginning, we've also expanded to having five years of free yoga classes and in the summer, we have tai chi and qi gong classes in the park.

For more information about Fort Tryon's fitness programs, visit their website!

If you are interested in getting in touch with Nancy Bruning, feel to contact her through her GetHealthyHarlem.org username: nbruning (click the "Contact" tab on her profile page)! You can also email her at nbfitinthecity@aol.com or call at 419-962-6292.

Read more from Nancy Bruning by clicking the links below:

Sign in or join now to save events.