SF State kinesiology students bring fitness into the community

A group of people of varying ages work out at a park in San Francisco.

Community members take advantage of a free fitness classes led by SF State kinesiology students at the Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreational Center in San Francisco. Credit: Casey Westbrook

Student-run program provides free classes to local residents

San Francisco resident Carlos Robinson remembers the sting of the cold when he showed up to the Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreational Center at 8 a.m. for his first class with the 100 Citizens program, a free one-hour workout led by San Francisco State University kinesiology students that’s open to the public. He wasn’t exactly thrilled.

The 55-year-old said he whined about the weather and asked if they could go indoors, but Casey Westbrook, 100 Citizens’ program director, had this get-up-and-go attitude that really got him moving. “I said, ‘Well, if she’s going to do it then I’m going to do it,’” Robinson said. “When you start at 8 a.m. it’s freezing cold out there and you don’t want to be there, but when it’s 9 a.m. and class is almost over, you’re really happy you did this.” That first day of class was two years ago, and Robinson has been showing up ever since.

Three times a week, a group of 10 students head to the park for the classes. They are part of 100 Citizens, which aims to help residents of underserved communities meet or exceed the Center for Disease Control’s minimum recommendation for physical activity: 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

Originally begun at California State University, Northridge, it was brought to San Francisco in 2015 by Westbrook, an SF State graduate kinesiology student, and Arnold Shir, a class of '15 alum now working as a research assistant at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Through the program, the students not only help improve public health but also gain valuable experience training others as they prepare for careers in physical medicine or training.

“Underserved communities often have low levels of physical activity and high levels of chronic disease,” said Westbrook. “One of SF State’s big things is social justice, so through this program we’re really pushing that idea of helping community members become healthier while at the same time preparing our students to be leaders.”

About two years ago, Robinson underwent angioplasty due to a blockage in his heart. Doctors told him he needed to exercise regularly, eat right and lose weight, he said. He was already swimming, but when he attended the 100 Citizens program he expanded his exercise regimen. “We’ve got young kids out there from SF State, and they have all kinds of energy,” he said. “Being that they’re half my age it’s interesting the routines they come up with. They tell you things about your muscles and show you the right way to work out. If I was out there doing it myself, I’d probably do it wrong.”

Approximately 10 to 12 community members, typically between the ages of 50 and 60, attend each session. The students lead them through warm-up exercises, strength and resistance training, cardiovascular activity and exercises to improve flexibility and balance.

"Through this program we look to create not only a healthier community, but also leaders,” said Shir. “We aim to help our students grow and prepare them for the real world that lies ahead, while providing them with an invaluable experience, and we hope that they can take the skills they learn through this program and apply them to whatever career path they may choose.”

For Talia Amoyal, an SF State junior who hopes to eventually work as a strength and conditioning coach for a professional sports team, the program was a great way to combine her passions for both improving health and getting involved in the community. The value of the program, she added, goes beyond just providing exercise classes.

“It provides a sense of belonging, and I think it’s deeper than health and fitness,” Amoyal said. “I love seeing people come together and share passions, share community, share togetherness.”

For more information about 100 Citizens, visit kin.sfsu.edu/100citizens.