Marie Fajardo leads Dolores Salvador through a few laps around the gym during a Fit Families session at Bravo Medical Magnet High School. (USC Photo/David Sprague)


Fit Families program has healthy focus, from exercise routines to eating right

For participants in the free, USC-sponsored weekly sessions, payoffs include a positive outlook and some impressive weight loss

January 31, 2017 Joanna Clay

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A few months ago, Mirta Matura spent her Saturday mornings sleeping in, watching TV for a while and, in her words, “lingering around the house doing nothing.”

But for the last 12 weeks, she’s switched up her routine.

“Now I get up, take a shower and get ready for the program,” Matura, 42, said.

That program is Fit Families, now in its 11th year. Put on by the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, the free program takes place every Saturday and includes a three-hour guided workout followed by nutrition education.

Energetically dribbling a basketball in the gymnasium at Bravo Medical Magnet High School, you’d never guess Matura was barely walking with the help of a cane a year ago.

In 2016, she experienced two health scares — a stroke in February followed by a lupus diagnosis in July.

A few months ago, while at her local YMCA, she was turned on to Fit Families by Oscar Gallardo, a USC physical therapy instructor.

Since then, it’s changed her life — and her mom’s, too.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you join me?’,” recalled her mom, Soila Bevas, 59. “I really love the program.”

On Jan. 28, they joined about a dozen other participants doing circuit training — cardio, stretches and strength training with resistance bands.

“Our goal is that by them learning to do it on Saturday, then the rest of the week they can go in their neighborhoods and work out together,” said Cheryl Resnik, the USC physical therapy professor who founded the program.

Because of the program, Matura now works out four times a week — including a Zumba class with her mom.

Making changes

Matura said she has dropped three clothing sizes. Bevas said she’s lost roughly 30 pounds.

Each week, staff members help participants make exercise and nutrition goals. The new lifestyle has improved her mood, Matura said.

“I was depressed. I used to not go out because I would cry a lot,” Matura said, noting the stress of health issues. “When I [recently] went and tried on some clothes that didn’t fit — and now do — I jumped.”

Fit Families, supported by a grant from USC’s Good Neighbors program, was the brainchild of students about a decade ago. It is geared toward low-income and Latino communities that surround the university’s Health Sciences Campus near Boyle Heights.

“I think all families want to be healthier,” Resnik said. “Providing something they can come to that’s free and in the neighborhood is a real plus.”

On Saturday, health educator Sarah Train’s theme for the nutrition component was gut health, taught in English and Spanish. Participants asked how fermented foods work and some tried sauerkraut for the first time.

Get cooking

Bevas and Matura joined in sampling the day’s recipe — a bowl of kale, broccoli, carrots and barley topped with a tofu-cilantro dressing and a bit of sauerkraut, which has probiotic powers.

“Before, I didn’t go in the kitchen,” Matura said.

Now she regularly cooks up the recipes she learns at Fit Families — such as a kale and corn salad she and her mom sometimes have for breakfast.

Resnik runs the program with Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy staff and a slew of volunteers. She hopes to use the data they collect to eventually publish a study on the impact of such a clinic on a community like Boyle Heights.