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Blue sky fitness: Outdoor classes

It makes sense that WNYers love outdoor fitness classes.

“When people can finally get outside after being stuck inside after a long winter, they do,” said Julie Leatherbarrow, owner of Budding Tree Yoga in Elma.

Leatherbarrow, a certified yoga instructor, is the creator and lead director of the annual Budding Tree Yoga Festival, which offers outdoor yoga classes as well as health and wellness workshops.

“Yoga in itself helps us reconnect with nature, whether you’re in the studio or outside, so when you’re actually practicing outside, you’re breathing deeply and connecting in a different way,” Leatherbarrow said.

Yoga isn’t the only class you can experience outdoors. Fitness in the Parks, a collaboration between Independent Health and YMCA Buffalo Niagara, offers a range of classes at multiple locations around WNY. Now in its sixth year, the program had 8,000 participants in 2016.

Jill Syracuse, executive vice president, chief engagement and servicing officer for Independent Health, says classes continue to increase in popularity each year, and they are seeing more and more people take advantage of these classes as fun group outings.

“What better way than participate in a healthy activity with friends or family at one of our beautiful park locations,” said Syracuse. “There is a certain aura about being outside during our wonderful summer months, which really boosts motivation and momentum to get outside and start exercising and moving.”

The allure of Fitness in the Parks and similar outdoor programs is also the community aspect, said Kelly Standage, associate director of membership and wellness programs at the YMCA Buffalo Niagara.

“Group exercise is social in nature,” Standage said. “The YMCA perspective is all about building community, and over the last five years, we’ve really seen that happen. We’re seeing mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, friends and neighbors come do this together. It’s a well-rounded program; you can build a solid fitness routine with it.”

Fitness in the Parks offers classes including boot camp, cardio dance, cardio kickboxing, Pilates, yoga (for adults and kids) and Zumba, among others.
Syracuse said Fitness in the Parks classes are offered in 18 locations throughout Buffalo, so people can likely find one nearby. All classes are free.

“You experience locations so unique and iconic, whether it’s at RiverWorks or [New Era] stadium,” Syracuse said. “You don’t have to be a member of Independent Health to participate. Just pick a location that’s convenient and show up.”

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