In the year and a half since the Lemon Cree fitness programs first reared their head in the Cree communities, founder and instructor Theresa Ducharme said she has seen a lot of change. At the same time she wants to remind all of you that exercise is for everybody.
“Some people feel that they are at a point beyond where they can exercise or do anything anymore. But everyone in every age group whether they are young or old, male or female, sick or healthy, everybody should exercise and that means movement,” said Ducharme.
Ducharme’s philosophy is that exercise is something that you can do for the mind and for the spirit to improve your overall health because when someone exercises they will feel good, see their body function better, improve their circulation and help develop muscle strength. Exercise also improves sleeping habits and can help to improve one’s immune system.
“Mentally it just makes you feel better because you can get that pure adrenaline running and that will set off endorphins. Exercise can be like a natural anti-depressant pill.
“But it’s when you don’t exercise that your body starts to get weak and is no longer at ease and this is a time where disease can become part of your body. Your bones will become brittle and you will feel depressed, you will start to get arthritis and you will die earlier,” said Ducharme.
It was in this vein that the Nation went to Ducharme and requested that she design a short workout that anyone of any fitness level can do, even someone who has not exercised in years, is obese or has been bed-ridden, provided that their doctor says that they are medically fit to exercise.
For those who find themselves in this situation, Ducharme recommends that you just start moving, even if it is just for 15 minutes per day. Alternately, you can also try the workout.
“This is just a start for somebody who has been laying in their bed a lot. They can get up from their bed for 15 minutes, hold on to a chair do these movements on the following few pages and just make that commitment to yourself.
“That is the hard part, the commitment, turning that thought into a behaviour and that behaviour into a routine. That is the part that’s tricky and so you have to make that commitment from within yourself to do that,” said Ducharme.
In terms of her own fitness courses, Ducharme has seen programs take off in several of the Cree communities.
What started out as a healthy body, healthy mind initiative by the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association for Ducharme to start up programs in each of the communities has taken on new life as the association was only available to provide for the start-up.
Communities like Mistissini, Oujé-Bougoumou and Waswanipi managed to obtain funding through their own recreation departments to run Bounce Fitness courses through their own community members. While Nemaska has Ducharme come in regularly to run programs, they have also begun to offer a second program, Power Fit (a combination of strength training and cardio) to their community.
“Having a community just take control of that is what makes the difference and that’s what has been happening,” said Ducharme.
Lemon Cree is also in the process of certifying several new trainers who will be capable of running both the Bounce Fit and Power Fit programs in the communities to keep this Cree-born fitness trend going, something that wouldn’t have existed without Lemon Cree.
At the same time, while each of these programs is ruvnning successfully, teaching groups of about 20 or under per community, more is needed to see the overall wellness of the communities improve.
“People tend to want what has already been successful there. They want to be in a social group, listen to good music, laugh, feel safe and they want to have a workout,” said Ducharme.
At the same time she hopes that more programs develop to suit the needs of the people as not everybody wants to get fit the same way and she feels that it’s the women who need the most support as they tend to have more sedentary jobs and less physically active lives.
With that in mind, Ducharme has been developing a Dance Fit course to appeal to younger females who tend to be more interested in hip-hop type dancing and in the long run she is also hoping to develop programs to appeal to Elders who have individually approached Ducharme.
But, whether these programs will make their way to the north is really up to the communities.
“I have seen a big difference in the past year. They are starting to have different kinds of exercise and I am glad that Lemon Cree was able to open that door even wider,” said Ducharme.