Facility Update: The Y will be closed on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27

New Canaan YMCA

Beyond the Weights: Discovering the Mental Health Benefits of the Y

Beyond the Weights: Discovering the Mental Health Benefits of the Y

When we think of the New Canaan YMCA, the first things that come to mind are often children playing and our friends and neighbors exercising to remain physically fit. Beyond the swim lessons, fitness classes, and basketball games, though, is a place filled with activities and opportunities that strengthen our community’s mental health every day.

The World Health Organization has identified depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and according to the National Institute of Health, 22.8% of Americans were classified as having some form of mental illness in 2021.

Bethany Zaro, Director of Human Services for the town, shared, “While New Canaan may be considered an insular bubble to many, as residents, we need to be aware of the increase in depression and anxiety in our community (and the world!). Our minds and bodies feel the long-term buildup of chronic stress and worry. As a result, there need to be accessible outlets to release and redirect our anxious energy to more positive thoughts and actions.”

This is where the New Canaan YMCA plays a pivotal, yet lesser-known, role for our community. Margaret Riley, New Canaan YMCA Executive Director, shared, “The Y’s mission is to enrich the mind, body, and spirit of everyone who walks through its doors. Although our members may come to the Y with a goal of improving their physical health, they all receive an incidental improvement to their mental well-being because physical activity and connecting with others positively affects mental health.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that regular physical activity reduces symptoms of anxiety in adults and older adults, reduces the risk of developing depression in children and adults, and can improve many of the symptoms experienced by people with depression. And according to The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, exercising in a group setting lowers stress by 26%.

Zaro added, “There is strong evidence supporting the direct correlation between one’s mental well-being and the amount of physical and social activity one engages in. Through regular exercise and connecting with others, an overall uplift in mood, concentration and alertness occurs. This gives rise to a healthier outlook and thus a stronger engagement in everyday life. Committing to a weekly routine of walking outside, going to the gym or taking an exercise class with a friend, is one way to be a wellness advocate for yourself and the community at large.”

The New Canaan YMCA offers a wide variety of opportunities for the community to stay physically active and connected with others. The Y offers over 100 group fitness classes each week, along with facilities for independent exercise including a fitness center, gymnasium, training center, and 3 swimming pools. Recreational programs are also offered for all ages and interests. Programs like youth gymnastics, three aquatics teams, drop-in adult/teen sports, middle school madness, chronic disease support, and the Y’s ForeverWell senior programs provide a vast number of opportunities for our community members to support their mental health through both physical activity and social connection.

New Canaan YMCA member Cleo Bibas shared, “The Y has had a profound effect on my mental and physical health. I’ve made many friends and acquaintances with the classmates and YMCA staff I see on a daily basis. This is a very important component of daily life as we age. The New Canaan Y has become a welcoming home for me especially since my children and grandchildren live in other states.”

To learn more about how to support your physical and mental health at the New Canaan YMCA, visit www.newcanaanymca.org.

If you or a loved one are in urgent need of mental health treatment, contact the New Canaan Urgent Assessment program at 866-542-4455 to receive a timely psychiatric assessment and tailored referral for ongoing care.