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Put the fun into your fitness in 2024: From running to pickleball, Fayetteville’s fitness scene includes a healthy serving of motivation to help you keep your healthy resolutions into the new year.


As the holidays fade into distant memories and the days slowly expand with more sunlight, it’s time to put away the electronic devices, get off the couch and into the big, beautiful outdoors and start moving.

For many people the arrival of a New Year is a signal — a time to press the reset button on their health and fitness goals.
That could mean raising the bar on a fitness routine or dusting off long-abandoned equipment, like trekking poles, running shoes, bicycles or tennis racquets, and greeting the New Year with fresh eyes and a new resolve to get fit.

Ben Fletcher recalls how his young daughter hated running until she discovered the nonprofit program Girls on the Run of Coastal Carolina, which is centered on “teaching critical life skills” in its “research-based programs.”

“Meeting in small teams, trained volunteer coaches inspire team members with and without disabilities to strengthen confidence and other important life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and physical activity,” according to Girls on the Run of Coastal Carolina’s website.
Fletcher’s daughter fell in love with the sport and is now running 5K races.

“The run club is her social gathering, and she’s doing great,” Fletcher said. “She has improved her running time by five minutes over last year.”

Fletcher, 32, an exercise physiologist at HealthPlex of Cape Fear Valley Health, says one key to adopting a healthy lifestyle is finding an activity you enjoy, just as his daughter discovered running. He joined other HealthPlex exercise physiologists in a discussionl to share tips for kicking off a year of good health in 2024.

“Explore a new hobby or discover what you are passionate about, and do that,” Fletcher said. “If you like gardening, go outside and garden, and if hiking’s your thing, we have great places here in Fayetteville to hike.”

Exercise physiologist Jessica Wayment noticed her children were spending increasingly more time in their classrooms at school, with less time for recreation. She worried that could set them on a journey to an inactive lifestyle as they grow up.

“The older you get, it’s increasingly difficult to break out of that sedentary pattern, and eventually it impacts both your physical and mental health,” she said. “Walking several times a week may improve your cardiovascular health, but the mental aspect of it is vastly underestimated.”

Even the simple act of stepping outside and taking a short walk can boost your energy and your mood, she added. She points to mood-boosting body chemicals called endorphins, which are released during exercise and trigger positive feelings and euphoria.

Getting started

For many people, getting off the couch is the hardest first step on the road to a healthier lifestyle.

Wayment, 44, suggests creating an accountability plan, whether that means setting and keeping goals, or finding a partner to help you stay on track. You can rely on a friend, your spouse, or even your dog to help you stick to a healthy routine, she says.

“I would say the first step is to just find somebody you are accountable to even if that person is yourself,” said Wayment, who works at the HealthPlex. “Keeping a lifestyle journal and doing a daily check-in are two ways to hold yourself accountable.”

Even setting simple goals like exercising three times a week or walking 7,000 steps a day will help you stay on track.

“And when you accomplish your first goals, set new ones, and hold yourself accountable for achieving those too,” she said.

Some people feel they can’t afford to buy gym memberships or equipment, but adopting a healthy routine doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Fayetteville and Cumberland County offer residents free and low-cost parks and sports facilities.

“The Cape Fear River Trail and J. Bayard Clark Park and Nature Center are popular destinations for walking, hiking and mountain biking,” said James McMillan, assistant director of recreation for Fayetteville-Cumberland County Parks & Recreation.

Fayetteville is also home to 20 recreation centers across the city. Sixteen are general-purpose facilities and four others are dedicated to special populations including seniors and individuals with disabilities who participate in adaptive sports.

“At the recreation centers, residents can use the equipment for free,” McMillan said. “Classes charge fees to pay the instructors.”

Boost your social life

Pursuing fitness adventures in the new year can lead to a broader circle of friends and improve your social connections.

Linda Mack, 67, a Fayetteville resident who retired after a long career as an office manager, missed the social aspects of her working life and sought activities to get out of her house. She had not exercised in many years, but proving it’s never too late to start, she ventured over to the brand-new Bill Crisp Senior Center last spring.

“I remember it was on a Friday in May and the center was nice and quiet, and people were working out,” she said. “I had a feeling this was a place where I would feel comfortable.”

By September, she was all in. Today, she not only participates in line dancing, aerobics, and chair yoga, but she has signed on as a volunteer and works at the front desk twice a week.

Brian Gaskill, the 37-year-old assistant recreation supervisor at the Bill Crisp Senior Center and a certified personal trainer, loves helping the local senior citizen population stay fit and healthy.

“I have found my passion working with our seniors,” he said as he led a tour of the facility.

“I can see our folks becoming more social and upbeat, and as they learn how to use the exercise equipment properly, they start noticing positive changes in their bodies too,” he said.

The Center, which serves residents over 55, features an indoor lap pool, and an equipment room, fully stocked with state-of-the-art fitness machines, including treadmills, exercise bikes, elliptical machines and weightlifting machines.

And it’s a place to find kindred spirits and make new friends.

“Some people have lost loved ones, and some are suffering from anxiety and depression and just need to get out of the house and be around other people,” Mack said. “I feel this can be that lifeline they need.”

She says she understands how hard it can be for some individuals to start an exercise routine for fear of being embarrassed about working out with other people who may be more fit.

“Here at the Bill Crisp Center, there’s something for everyone, no matter what level you’re on,” she said. “Most of the classes meet you where you are, so you don’t have to feel like you must keep up with everybody else and go home hurting.”

She adds that the center can make a difference for those willing to give it a try and there’s no time like the present.

“Don’t be afraid to explore new things or step out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Here, everyone helps you feel comfortable.”

It takes time

On a warm December afternoon, the pickleball courts at the G.B. Myers Recreation Center are a hub of energy as players of all ages line up to take their turn in the center’s regular pickleball pick-up matches.

On some days, you’ll find Monique Gilbert on the courts too, even though it took her several years to get started.

As recreation supervisor at the G.B. Myers & Massey Hill Recreation Centers, Gilbert has always stood on the sidelines watching people enjoy playing pickleball, the massively popular sport that some call a cross between tennis and ping pong.

One day, someone convinced her to lace up her sneakers, take up a paddle, and join the fun.

The 53-year-old was hooked immediately and now plays every chance she gets, even during her lunch hour. She can’t believe it took her so long to start.

“It’s a quick workout and it’s very relaxing,” she said. “You can play one game and you feel so much better. Because you’re so focused on the game, it takes your mind off of your stress.”

While the game of pickleball can become a favorite sport within minutes of stepping onto a court, for some people, results come in baby steps and are hard to notice immediately. And that can be discouraging for those who seek faster rewards for their efforts.

Tracking both your fitness activities will help you notice progress that might not be visible to the naked eye.

Wayment suggests keeping a fitness journal on a notepad, a smartphone app or a watch will help you measure your progress and enable you to see your health improve in real-time. Tracking your steps and gradually adding more every day will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Staying active will lead to healthier nutrition too, she added.

“Start simple,” Wayment said. “Drink an extra glass of water instead of sweet tea at lunch once a week, then twice a week, and before you know it, you’re drinking water instead of sugary drinks every day.”

Adding a few more vegetables into your diet every day and tracking what you eat will also lead to a more balanced diet and a sense of well-being.

“By day 14, you may start noticing you have more energy, and you are sleeping better,” she said.

Consistency is important, but it’s not the end of the world if you fall off the good health wagon.

“If you slip into your old bad habits, give yourself some mercy. There’s always tomorrow to get back on track,” she said.

“It takes constant work to build healthy habits,”

Fletcher agrees.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” he said. “You may start with a goal to run one lap and then work up to running one mile in a month. Then next month you make it to a mile and a half and slowly build on that base.”

Before you know it, those healthy habits will rub off on your friends, acquaintances and even your loved ones. And those around you may start pursuing a healthier lifestyle too.

Fletcher’s family is off to a running start this year, thanks to his daughter’s strides with Girls on the Run.

Today, her newfound passion has rubbed off on her mom who is now in training so she can be part of a mother-and-daughter duo for an upcoming 5K.

And both are getting there one lap at a time.

This story was first published in the January 2024 edition of CityView magazine. Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in Raleigh.