“Dancing with the Doc for Wellness” Offers Exercise and Education to Residents of North Houston

It’s just after 7:30 a.m. The sun is coming up and psychiatrist Dr. Barry Gritz is pulling into the parking lot at Clark Park in north Houston. He gets out of the car, takes out his sound system that sits on a pull cart, and heads to the basketball court. At 8 a.m. he will lead “Dancing with the Doc for Wellness,” a Zumba class started by the Memorial Hermann Community Benefits Corporation (CBC) as a way to help residents improve their emotional and physical well-being.

“I decided to take part in this program because I felt it was the best way to get people to think about their health and help them feel better through dancing,” Gritz said. “Dancing and medicine are my two passions. The women in the neighborhood have really taken to it, and the class is growing.”

A few years ago this would not have been possible in Clark Park. The park was rundown, crime-ridden and residents did not feel safe going there by themselves or with their children. The CBC got involved and took steps to refurbish the walking track, the soccer fields, etc. and brought in programs, like Dancing with the Doc for Wellness, that promote good health.

“The goal of this emotional well-being health initiative is to teach communities to use the benefits of movement and music to improve mood as well as reduce stress and anxiety,” said Carol Paret, Senior Vice President and Chief Community Health Officer with Memorial Hermann Health System. “We believe creating a program with mindful techniques will help individuals make positive changes in their daily approach to stress and anxiety while helping them learn how to identify and control triggers that may cause negative behaviors or feelings.”

To advance Memorial Hermann’s vision of creating healthier communities, the CBC implements initiatives that work with other healthcare providers, government agencies, business leaders and community stakeholders that are designed to improve the overall quality of life in underserved Houston communities. The work is built on the foundation of four intersecting pillars: Access to Health Care, Emotional Well-being, Food as Health, and Exercise is Medicine, and takes Memorial Hermann outside of its campuses and into the community.

“Recently, we partnered with the Houston Rockets to refurbish two basketball courts in Moody Park in north Houston with plans to do the same thing in other parks in underserved areas of the city,” Paret said. “We are true believers that when families have access to safe parks with great infrastructure and programming, engagement and activity will grow and all of this will lead to a healthier community.”

Paret says in parks refurbished by Memorial Hermann, there has been a significant increase in park usage among residents.

“We have seen a reduction in the BMI of kids taking part in the “Soccer for Success” program in Clark Park,” Paret said. “In addition, many walkers in the park are exercising for 300+ minutes, double the amount time suggested by the CDC to maintain good health.”

As Dr. Gritz starts the class, you can hear the music blaring through the park. One minute you might hear Shakira, the next minute, Def Leppard. The smiles on the women’s faces tell it all. They are happy they have a safe place to go to exercise and socialize with their neighbors. Once the exercise portion is complete, Dr. Gritz takes a health topic and discusses it with the class members. The presentation is designed to give them the tools to self-manage their emotional health and provide self-care techniques and practices to help them live an emotionally responsible, healthy lifestyle.

“I get a lot of gratification out of teaching this class and helping the residents of this community,” Gritz said. “I call myself an “edutainer” because I get to combine my love of dancing and educating. I am thrilled that Memorial Hermann has taken up the cause to refurbish this park and help these residents through programs that are truly making a difference in their lives.”

For more information about the Dancing with the Doc for Wellness program, call 713-338-5997 or by emailing Katherine Jolivette at Katherine.jolivette@memorialhermann.org.

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Ali Vise