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Arc of New Jersey Healthy Lifestyle Program

Catering specifically to those living with disabilities, the program puts healthy lifestyle information into action.

What gets a group of people with disabilities on the move? Ask Saudia, a 53-year-old Newark resident, and you’ll hear about The Arc of New Jersey Healthy Lifestyle Program.

This initiative is supported by a generous grant from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, which is dedicated to supporting organizations that make New Jersey healthier. The program gives adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities the chance to engage in healthy, community-based events.

Through the Healthy Lifestyle Program, Arc clients literally step out into the world of health and fitness through yoga, healthy breakfasts, visits with a personal trainer and — best of all — weekly hikes through Watchung Reservation in Union County.

Saudia, for one, threw herself into the hikes. “I went on every single walk we took on Wednesdays — except if it was raining,” she said. “In the beginning I couldn’t walk that far, but by the end we all walked over a mile and a half in the woods. We had so much fun doing it together, and now I have lots of friends from it.”

When asked why she joined the program, Saudia explained, “I want to be healthy. I want to have fun and I want to have energy. Now I do!”

Saudia said that the program isn’t just about exercising, it’s about eating healthy, too.

“We all talked about what we had for breakfast,” she said. “It wasn’t very good and someone even said they had candy! One day, we made a breakfast with so much good food — granola bars, yogurt, almond milk and lots of fruit — bananas, blueberries and raspberries. Now I try to eat like that every day.”

According to The Arc’s Self-Advocacy Project Director, Ashley Richie, people with disabilities generally don’t have access to health and wellness information. Since much of their life is regulated, either in a group home or with a caregiver, they can’t take advantage of community programs. In Saudia’s case, she rarely left Newark, but the reservation walks took her out of the city, gave her an easy way to exercise and helped her feel less isolated.

“This program puts healthy lifestyle information into action,” Ashley said. “Whether taking a group hike or making a healthy breakfast, the camaraderie and shared experience make a big impact. Each year the number of people benefiting from the program has increased and the types of activities we host are growing, too. Saudia is one of hundreds of people with disabilities who are getting healthy while having fun with others who want to eat right and exercise.”