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Exercise Benefits More Than Just Muscles

The benefits of exercise for youth and adults have long been recognized.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, children and adolescents who engage in regular physical activity have more strength and endurance, healthier bones and muscles, better weight control, less anxiety and stress and better self-esteem than their counterparts who do not engage in regular exercise. In addition, some research suggests that regularly engaging in physical activity can help improve students’ grades and achievement in school as well as their overall academic behavior.   There are also numerous long term benefits. Regular exercise builds a stronger immune system. Children who are physically active have fewer colds, allergies and other diseases. Regular exercise increases insulin sensitivity and improves carbohydrate metabolism, thereby lowering the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.  Youth and adolescents who exercise consistently have lower blood pressure and a healthier cholesterol profile. The entire cardiovascular system is strengthened, which helps to prevent heart disease.

At WCMHS there are several programs that aim at helping youth and adults become physically active. In 2013, we began partnering with Green Mountain Crossfit to offer classes to youth of various ages. Over 30 youth have participated in these classes.

In the fall of 2014 an exciting opportunity presented itself when Crossfit trainer Troy Lawson began offering bootcamp style classes to employees at the WCMHS’ Summer Street location. Lawson is a Crossfit Level 2 certified instructor who has been an athlete his entire life. He has been training and coaching both adults and youth in various forms of physical activity for decades. Lawson began participating in Crossfit in 2010 and started coaching at Green Mountain Crossfit in 2012.

workout gymSince the first Summer Street workouts with minimal equipment and a handful of participants, THE GYM at Summer Street, located within WCMHS’ WELLSPACE, has grown. Lawson has gradually increased the equipment, supplemented by donations from WCMHS Wellness committee. Now the gym boasts multiple pull up stations, weight racks, barbells and bumper plates, kettle bells and dumbbells, wall balls, ab-mats, plyometric boxes and jump ropes as well as Concept 2 rowers.  Bootcamp classes, which offer full body functional movement and strength training are available not just for staff, but for community members as well, five days a week. These classes are appropriate for all ages and ability levels and can be scaled and adjusted to meet the needs of both first time and elite athletes. Class size currently averages between 6 and 12 participants with community members comprising over half the class.

In the summer of 2015, Lawson ventured into new territory. Jen Luce, Case manager for WCMHS’ STARS program, and a bootcamp participant since the very beginning, approached Lawson about teaching a movement class during the STARS summer program. The STARS program serves children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. Lawson admits that at first he was a bit nervous, as he had never coached this population before. Lawson reached out to Tyler Belanger, of Catalyst Crossfit, the founder of the IGNITEGYM program. IGNITEGYM is renowned for combining physical movement with behavioral and cognitive therapy, and provides services to clients with autism, Down’s syndrome, brain injury, stroke, and ADHD.  Lawson received 12 weeks of programming focusing on functional movements specifically designed for children and youth with ASD.  The class was well received by both youth and staff and has continued throughout the school year, with up to ten youth participating each week.

Luce made books for each of the students, with the different movements broken down into their component pieces and illustrated with photos. The different movements that will be focused on each week can be reviewed, using the books, before each class, so students arrive with some expectation of what will be happening. Data is being collected on attendance, participation, endurance and coordination.   Luce states that not only do the students look forward to the group each week, but so do staff, often citing it as the favorite part of the week.

fitness for girlsIn addition to the “Littles” class, as the Functional Movement group is called, the GYM also hosts a GirlPower Group, which meets after school two days a week and is open to girls ages 13-18.  This group utilizes basic strength building and functional body movements to empower girls to be both physically and emotionally strong. Integrated in this group is an exercise component, which is focused around strength training as well as discussion about how to develop empowerment into everyday life, the importance of positive self-talk and how to stay motivated when performing difficult tasks.  According to Psychologist John Hermiz, exercise can help develop mental toughness--- the ability to continue according to plan in a way that is in line with your values even though negative thoughts and emotions are pulling you in another direction and can even increase one’s ability to deal with stressful situations.  “When a person experiences tough situations and gets through them, some sort of cognitive restructuring takes place. A rule forms in the athlete’s mind: ‘A situation might seem hopeless and overwhelming, but if I keep going, I’ll get through it.’ Overcoming tough situations builds confidence in the ability to handle similar situations.”  One GirlPower participant summed up her experience, “It’s a lot of fun. I have learned how to do things I didn’t know how to do, didn’t even know existed. I like weightlifting. I like sit ups, squats and the death star. It feels good to get a new PR [personal record].”

Clearly, both clients and staff are benefiting from utilizing the GYM at WELLSPACE here in Barre.  Exercise is one of many wellness options that Washington County Mental Health Services now offers to boost preventative approaches with the objective of keeping staff and clients healthy, happy and engaged in their lives.   From employee wellness programming to Wellness Collaborative groups to hosting a Tobacco free campus, WCMHS is on the front line of proactive steps to increase wellbeing in our community.


Written 4/2016



Achauer, H. (2015). Child's Play. The Crossfit Journal, November. Retrieved March 15, 2016.

Cooper, C. (2013). Training the Brain. Crossfit Journal, June. Retrieved March 15, 2016

Cooper, C. (2014). Fitness Through Sports? The Crossfit Journal, September. Retrieved March 15, 2016.

Cooper, C. (2015). Charting a New Course in the Classroom. The Crossfit Journal, November. Retrieved March 15, 2016.

Hermiz, J. (2012). Building Mental Toughness. The Crossfit Journal, January. Retrieved March 15, 2016.

United States, Centers for Disease Control. (2010). The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.






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