The New Bedford Wellness Initiative hosts free Sunday morning classes at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater New Bedford and the “Walk with a Doc” program, which is held at Buttonwood Park and the Dartmouth Mall.


This article originally appeared in the January 2020 edition of Senior Scope. Article and photo by Seth Thomas.

A common refrain this time of year is “New Year, New You.” This popular slogan is largely geared toward those looking to shed a few pounds acquired throughout the holiday season by joining a gym. But you don’t need an expensive gym membership to get active and stay motivated.

The New Bedford Wellness Initiative hosts free classes for adults at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater New Bedford on Sundays, and these classes offer more than just exercise.

“Opportunities for people to move their bodies are important, but it’s really about getting people together and feeling connected,” said Dr. Michael Rocha, a cardiologist with Hawthorn Medical Associates and founder of the New Bedford Wellness Initiative. “It’s about relationships – whether it’s the doctor/patient relationship, friends and family, student and instructor – it’s all about caring.”

The Wellness Initiative started five years ago with the “Walk with a Doc” program, in which a local doctor leads a walking group around Buttonwood Park or the Dartmouth Mall. Around that time, Rocha explored the possibility of bringing additional adult programing into the community.

The group hosted several events, including health-themed film screenings at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. By 2015, the Wellness Initiative started its Sunday morning fitness program.

Today, the program is offered for free through grant funding from the Carney Family Charitable Foundation, Hawthorn Medical Associates and the Acushnet Foundation. While instructors are compensated, the program is led by volunteers.

Initially, the group offered standard fitness programs, like aerobics classes and courses on nutrition. Their offerings have since expanded to include Qigong, massage therapy, reiki and smoking-cessation classes.

“A group fitness program, in general, creates a sense of community that keeps people consistent and coming back,” said Julie Fostin, co-director of the New Bedford Wellness Initiative. “They know that they’re going to see their friends. They enjoy the instructors, too. People enjoy the energy in the classes.”

The Initiative hosted its first fitness challenge last October and intends to launch a new challenge in the New Year, running from Jan. 26 to March 8. Participants will receive a class card, and for every class they take, they get a point. At the end of the challenge, whoever gets the most points gets a free, invite-only yoga class with Deb Fraine, the Initiative’s yoga director, for the winner and his or her friends.

“I’ve been involved in fitness my entire life, but I think it takes effort just to walk through the door sometimes,” said Fostin. “We want people to feel comfortable coming in and knowing that the instructors are able to work with all levels, for all abilities.”

Fostin said the best way to stay up-to-date with the Wellness Initiative is through its Facebook page, which posts about events, class schedules and photos from instructors. You can find the page by visiting

“Why more people keep coming back on Sundays is because people feel connected to a group,” said Rocha. “That’s what we’re trying to do – the antidote to loneliness is community.”


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