Faith — and five weeks to fitness

Published 9:39 pm Saturday, June 11, 2011

Members of five Suffolk churches made a commitment recently to themselves and each other to live healthier lives while practicing their faith.

During the course of five weeks, participants at St. Paul Baptist, St. Mark AME Zion, Bethlehem Christian, Missouri Baptist and Greater Sweet Beulah Apostolic churches worked together to lose weight and eat healthier foods.

Margie Callahan, who is a member at Bethlehem Christian, said that when she lived in the Bronx, N.Y., she was part of Bronx Health Reach, an organization that works to solve health problems in the African American community.

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She said the group found one of the best ways to reach the community was through churches.

“African Americans spend a lot of time in the church,” she said. “They reached out to the churches and decided this was the best way to go.”

The group developed a fitness program the churches could use that united faith with exercises and nutrition.

When Callahan relocated to Suffolk, she asked Bronx Health Reach if she could develop the program for the churches here.

The Virginia Faith-Based Outreach Initiative that Callahan is a part of works with several churches to inform community members about healthy living.

To raise the stakes, the churches decided to participate in a friendly weight-loss competition.

Callahan broke down the 12-week Bronx Health Reach faith-based exercise program into five weeks. The participants committed to diet, monitor nutrition and participate in one day of group exercise at their churches and two more days of independent exercise.

Callahan said the groups used fitness DVDs that include exercises people at any level of fitness can perform.

She said she thinks people enjoyed the program more than other exercise programs, because they were among friends.

“I think people were looking for something where they can participate together,” Callahan said.

She even said she felt more comfortable in the program because she could be with friends and discuss more than just exercise.

“When you go to other exercise programs, you go and in and do the exercises and leave and go home,” Callahan said.

Participants also liked that the program was free of charge.

Many of them have said they want to continue the programs throughout the year.

All of the church members competed to lose the most weight in five weeks. Callahan said most participants lost five to 10 pounds during the course of the program.

The person who lost the most weight received an award and gift basket. Members with the top weight losses at their churches will also be given awards.