A Spark of Education: Lebanon Community Center Teaches Health, Fitness

Published: 8/8/2016 11:05:25 AM
Modified: 2/5/2015 12:00:00 AM
Lebanon — Occupying a corner of the former Lebanon Junior High building, the Spark Community Center is a new place of learning.

Among the facility’s educational programs is a health and fitness class, led by Executive Director Brett Mayfield, to introduce participants to beneficial exercises and movement drills.

A physician and licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine, Mayfield on Wednesday demonstrated ancient movements in the field of Chi Gong, traditional philosophical training emphasizing balance and energy awareness.

Fitting in with Spark’s mission to provide social and educational programs to those with special needs, Wednesday’s class attracted five Upper Valley residents who have intellectual or cognitive challenges.

Mayfield, who runs a holistic health center in Wilder, conveyed exercises he said helps massage the organs. He showed the “torso twist” and “bucket pickup” — the former is a literal twisting of the upper body and the latter reaching and bending from side-to-side — both of which he said are good for the kidneys.

The third and final exercise brought his elbow to the opposite knee before repeating on the other side, a movement Mayfield said benefits the lungs and circulation.

“It’s important to keep the organs healthy all the time, but especially in the winter when your body is more susceptible to colds and the flu,” Mayfield said. “These are all simple exercises that are really effective without straining the body. They move energy from your center out to your hands and toes without raising your body temperature too high.”

Mayfield recommended adopting overall conscious movement practices during everyday movements such as walking.

“Usually you just kind of lumber down the street, but if you focus on your hips and feet while you walk, it actually strengthens your balance over time,” Mayfield said. “Any focused movement has a benefit to your health. It helps keep your weight in check and your muscles engaged and active.”

Mayfield beckoned Trevor McCormack, of Orford, to the floor to help demonstrate the bucket reach. He normally may have engaged all of those present in performing the movements on site, but all five happened to be eating lunch at the time and he decided not to interrupt their meals.

Dennis Jones, 23, said he’d probably be trying the exercises later. “I would definitely do those, especially the twist,” said Jones, of Enfield. “Exercising is great. It makes you healthier and it really helps (alleviate) your stress level.”

While Mayfield resisted breaking participants away from their food, he was quick to compliment the healthy dishes he spotted. Claremont resident Eric Lemieux had vegetable beef stew Tuesday night and brought some in to share with his friend, Sarah Peters, of Cornish.

“It’s great to see good, healthy foods here,” Mayfield said. “It looks like that stew has vegetables and beans, which have great nutrients.”

The food talk segued perfectly into Spark’s noontime cooking class, led by dietician Melanie Loschiavo as part of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Healthy Eating Active Living program.

Accompanied by volunteer assistant Anya Gendal, of East Thetford, Loschiavo cooked three light and healthy meals to a group that increased to eight.

Loschiavo’s “power breakfast” was cinnamon raisin oatmeal with a side of eggs, lunch was an easy chili recipe and dinner featured a potato and sausage “packet” cooked in the toaster in aluminum foil. After cooking, everyone in class got samples and printouts of the recipes to bring home. Loschiavo also went over safety tips such as basic knife handling and keeping raw meat separated from other ingredients. As for portions, Loschiavo said that a slower pace of eating helps the body better recognize when it’s satisfied.

“People ask me a lot, ‘What should I eat?’ ” said Loschiavo, who owns Upper Valley Nutrition Services, a Newbury, Vt.-based nutrition counseling company. “If you’re not distracted while you eat and pay attention to the process, you start feeling full when your body is actually full. You can slow down a little bit and still enjoy it.”

Many of those who took in the cooking class are Special Olympics athletes, including McCormack, who skis with the Rivendell Raptors Special Olympics team and Lemieux, a multi-sport athlete on the Claremont Cool Cats. Loschiavo, whose daughter, Anna, is a competitive equestrian rider, noted the key role nutrition plays in athletics.

“If you play sports, and I know a lot of these guys do, making healthy choices can really make an impact on the way you perform,” she said. “It all ties together.”

For a complete lost of Spark programs and events, visit www.sparkcommunitycenter.com or call 603-678-8619. Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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