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Community fitness programs

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise
Decision Makers: Employers & Businesses Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Fitness programs can be offered in a variety of community settings including fitness, community, senior, and community wellness centers. Program offerings vary by location, but often include exercise classes such as spinning/indoor cycling, aerobic dance classes, Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, and Tai Chi.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased physical activity
Improved physical fitness
Improved mental health

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that fitness and exercise programs offered in community settings increase physical activity levels and improve physical fitness for participating adults and older adults (Holland 2005Cruz-Ferreira 2011), particularly when these activities are offered with social support interventions (CG-Physical activity).

A variety of fitness activities have been shown to be effective in community settings. Aerobic dance classes such as Step, Bodycombat, TAEBO, and Pump, for example, can be as effective as jogging for calories expended (Rixon 2006). Zumba aerobic dance classes provide moderate intensity exercise (Otto 2011). Spinning/indoor cycling classes can be high intensity exercise, so may not be suitable for elderly or sedentary middle-aged adults (Lopez-Minarro 2010Caria 2007Battista 2008). Tai Chi appears to engage elderly adults in non-sedentary behavior (Taylor-Piliae 2004), improve balance, reduce falls (Leung 2011a), and improve cognitive function (Wayne 2014). Recent research suggests Tai Chi may also improve cardiorespiratory fitness, but stronger, longer-term studies are needed to confirm effects (Zheng 2015). Yoga can improve blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and many cardiovascular risk factors; however, more long-term studies are needed to confirm effects (Cramer 2014, Cochrane-Hartley 2014, Posadzki 2014). Pilates has been shown to improve flexibility, balance, and endurance among participants (Cruz-Ferreira 2011). Such group-based exercise activities can also improve mental well-being for elderly adults (Windle 2010).

Organized fitness programs appear to be more attractive to women and elderly adults than to men and younger adults (Holland 2005), while organized sport activities appear to appeal more to males (Cochrane-Priest 2008a). Physical activity regimens that include regular feedback, self-monitoring tools, some form of social support, variety in the activities, and friendly competition appear to encourage adult male participation; however, more studies are needed to determine the most effective ways to engage adult males in community-based fitness programs (George 2012).

Physical activity messages can help motivate individuals to adhere to regular fitness and exercise programs. Messages that are tailored to suit their recipients and framed in terms of gains instead of losses may result in greater physical activity than standard messages (Latimer 2010).


United States

Fitness programs or exercise classes are available in all 50 states and can be found at many local YMCAs or JCCs, community centers, parks and recreation facilities, and public or private gyms (YMCA-Fitness, JCC-Fitness, NRPA-Impacting communities). IDEA Health & Fitness Association has a searchable database of fitness classes offered by zip code (IDEA-Fitness).

Many faith-based organizations also offer regular fitness programs or exercise classes for their congregations. In the Greater Cincinnati area, for example, many congregations have organized faith-based physical activity and wellness programs (WeThrive-Faith).


Fitness programs or exercise classes are available throughout Wisconsin. Examples include: City of Janesville Adult Fitness Programs (Janesville-Fitness), Milwaukee Recreation (MR), and Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers (SBCHC). 

Implementation Resources

WeThrive-Toolbox - WeThrive!, Hamilton County Public Health. Toolbox and resources used as part of the WeThrive! initiative. Accessed on March 1, 2016

Citations - Evidence

Battista 2008* - Battista RA, Foster C, Andrew J, et al. Physiologic responses during indoor cycling. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008;22(4):1236-41. Accessed on December 1, 2015
Caria 2007* - Caria MA, Tangianu F, Concu A, Crisafulli A, Mameli O. Quantification of spinning bike performance during a standard 50-minute class. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2007;25(4):421-9. Accessed on November 24, 2015
CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity. Accessed on October 5, 2018
Cochrane-Hartley 2014* - Hartley L, Dyakova M, Holmes J, et al. Yoga for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: Review. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2014;(5):CD010072. Accessed on February 16, 2016
Cochrane-Priest 2008a* - Priest N, Armstrong R, Doyle J, Waters E. Interventions implemented through sporting organisations for increasing participation in sport. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008;(3): CD004812. Accessed on December 14, 2015
Cramer 2014* - Cramer H, Lauche R, Haller H, et al. Effects of yoga on cardiovascular disease risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Cardiology. 2014;173(2):170-183 Accessed on February 16, 2016
Cruz-Ferreira 2011 - Cruz-Ferreira A, Fernandes J, Laranjo L, Bernardo LM, Silva A. A systematic review of the effects of pilates method of exercise in healthy people. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2011;92(12):2071-81. Accessed on December 8, 2015
George 2012* - George ES, Kolt GS, Duncan MJ, et al. A review of the effectiveness of physical activity interventions for adult males. Sports Medicine. 2012;42(4):281-300. Accessed on February 5, 2016
Holland 2005* - Holland SK, Greenberg J, Tidwell L, et al. Community-based health coaching, exercise, and health service utilization. Journal of Aging and Health. 2005;17(6):697-716. Accessed on February 24, 2016
Latimer 2010 - Latimer AE, Brawley LR, Bassett RL. A systematic review of three approaches for constructing physical activity messages: What messages work and what improvements are needed? International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2010;7:36. Accessed on February 24, 2016
Leung 2011a* - Leung DPK, Chan CKL, Tsang HWH, Tsang WWN, Jones AYM. Tai chi as an intervention to improve balance and reduce falls in older adults: A systematic and meta-analytic review. Alternative Therapies. 2011;17(1):40-48. Accessed on February 16, 2016
Lopez-Minarro 2010* - López-Miñarro PA, Muyor Rodríguez JM. Heart rate and overall ratings of perceived exertion during Spinning® cycle indoor session in novice adults. Science & Sports. 2010;25(5):238-44. Accessed on March 14, 2016
Otto 2011* - Otto RM, Maniguet E, Peters A, et al. The energy cost of Zumba exercise: 1923: Board #118 June 2 8:00AM - 9:30AM. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(5):480. Accessed on March 14, 2016
Posadzki 2014* - Posadzki P, Cramer H, Kuzdzal A, Lee MS, Ernst E. Yoga for hypertension: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2014;22:511-522. Accessed on February 16, 2016
Rixon 2006 - Rixon KP, Rehor PR, Bemben MG. Analysis of the assessment of caloric expenditure in four modes of aerobic dance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2006;20(3):593-6. Accessed on January 28, 2016
Taylor-Piliae 2004* - Taylor-Piliae RE, Froelicher ES. The effectiveness of Tai Chi exercise in improving aerobic capacity: An updated meta-analysis. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing. 2004;19(1):48-57. Accessed on November 18, 2015
Wayne 2014 - Wayne P, Walsh J, Taylor-Piliae R, et al. The impact of tai chi on cognitive performance in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2014;62(1):25-39. Accessed on February 16, 2016
Windle 2010* - Windle G, Hughes D, Linck P, Russell I, Woods B. Is exercise effective in promoting mental well-being in older age? A systematic review. Aging & Mental Health. 2010;14(6):652-69. Accessed on June 15, 2018
Zheng 2015 - Zheng G, Li S, Huang M, et al. The effect of tai chi training on cardiorespiratory fitness in healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS ONE. 2015;10(2):e0117360. Accessed on September 18, 2018

Citations - Implementation

IDEA-Fitness - IDEA Health & Fitness Association. Find fitness classes & events. Accessed on February 25, 2016
Janesville-Fitness - City of Janesville. Neighborhood and community services: Adult fitness and aquatic programs. Accessed on February 10, 2016
JCC-Fitness - Jewish Community Center Association (JCC), Programs and services at JCCs of North America: Health & fitness. Accessed on February 16, 2016
MR - Milwaukee Recreation. Experience life. Accessed on March 1, 2016
NRPA-Impacting communities - National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Impacting communities: Health and wellness. Accessed on February 16, 2016
SBCHC - Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers (SBCHC). Welcome to Scenic Bluffs. Accessed on May 20, 2016
WeThrive-Faith - WeThrive!, Hamilton County Public Health. Our initiatives: WeThrive! for faith-based organizations. Accessed on March 1, 2016
YMCA-Fitness - Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Health, well-being & fitness. Accessed on November 23, 2015

Page Last Updated

June 9, 2015

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