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Center Offers Outlet for Physical, and Emotional, Rejuvenation

A host of new Wellness Center offerings, including a robust slate of virtual group classes, helps battle ‘COVID 15’

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Written by Chris Casey on September 11, 2020
  • What you need to know: The CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center has reopened in a gradual, phased-in fashion. Masks are required inside the center, where almost all of the 30,000 square feet of fitness areas have reactivated, including limited studio use for group classes and the reopening of the pool and hot tub.

Exercise is one of the best coping mechanisms during stressful times, so it’s good news for those seeking a “semblance of normal” amid the pandemic that the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC) has reopened.

The center closed for 2 ½ months at the start of the public health crisis, but since June has reopened in a gradual, phased-in fashion. The process has been guided by local and state mandates, and in concert with CU Anschutz’s comprehensive reopening protocols.

Now in phase three, almost all of the AHWC’s 30,000 square feet of fitness areas have reactivated, including limited studio use for group classes and the reopening of the pool and hot tub, also in limited-use capacity.

Because the center focuses on every aspect of wellness – including physical activity, mental well-being and nutrition – even virtual culinary classes are being offered.

‘Day-to-day interactions’

Candice Baumgardner, general manager of the AHWC Fitness Center, said members who’ve rejoined their workout routines are pleased by how the center responded to the pandemic.

“They are so grateful for the opportunity to be able to get into a semblance of a normal routine and resume those day-to-day interactions that they were used to,” she said. “Beyond just the exercise, seeing people who work here in the center, seeing their campus colleagues, they’ve been really grateful for that.”

Members are also pleased to see:

  • Every other piece of equipment is closed, providing spacious social distancing;
  • The center’s already strong cleaning protocol has been given even greater emphasis; and
  • Masks are required while working out inside the facility.

“Everyone is following the guidelines about masks and social distancing. Our members have always been exceptional about cleaning their equipment after they use it,” Baumgardner said. “It’s just par for the course of being on a medical campus. People are very aware, and they’re grateful to see everyone else doing their part – not just the staff but also their fellow members.”

Battling the ‘COVID 15’

Dan Bessessen, MD, director of the AHWC, said research consistently shows that regular exercise increases energy levels, clarifies thinking, improves sleep, reduces anxiety and depression and increases overall quality of life.


“During the pandemic, many of us have been stuck at home, which gives us more time to eat and sit. At home, we may lack the social support and environmental cues that previously helped us get regular exercise,” Bessessen said. “Our schedules are disrupted, and previous strategies for working exercise into our routines can break down. I hope everyone thinks about how getting regular physical activity now can help them feel their best in these difficult times.”

Laments about the “COVID 15” – the tendency to put on pounds during the pandemic – are sometimes heard in workout quarters, according to Baumgardner. “One of the things people immediately start to notice once they are getting back into exercise is just the way they feel emotionally and psychologically,” she said.

Growth of virtual exercise classes

A big change for the AHWC since the pandemic is its offering of Zoom group exercise classes. Baumgardner said members have “really enjoyed” both the group exercise on Zoom and the virtual personal training sessions.

“I don’t see it being something that ever goes away,” she said. “People really like the convenience of being able to do an exercise class – with guidance, with camaraderie, with the instructor who knows who you are, so there’s that community aspect. And people can do it from their homes or offices or wherever they happen to be.”

Many group classes are now hybrids – both in-person and via-Zoom participants. “A lot of people are starting to dip their toes into coming back into the gym,” Baumgardner said. “As people become more comfortable and see what we’re doing and see how it feels to be in the gym, I think the numbers will continue to grow.”

Prior to visiting, all members must reserve a workout time (the maximum interval is 60 minutes per day) through the member app or website portal. Reservations are open 24 hours in advance. Appointments for personal training or massage must be made individually with the personal trainer or body work therapist.

Day lockers are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the first floor.

Variety of offerings this fall

The AHWC recently installed new studio cycling bikes. “We’re excited to use them for actual group exercise classes, but as of now members can go into the studio and use them on their own,” Baumgardner said. “We’ve seen people take their phone into the studio and essentially take a class on their own using the streaming classes for cycling.”

Also standard for the center is a healthy slate of special events for both members and non-members. Virtual events on tap in the coming weeks include “Culinary Medicine Cooking Classes,” “Autumn Equinox Yoga” on Sept. 22, and “Weight Loss 4 Life Ongoing Support,” a program beginning Oct. 12.

On a daily basis, the AHWC meters the number of people coming in at any given time, limiting check-ins to 10 people every 15 minutes. The center has set a total of 40 members in the general gym area as the capacity in one hour. Generally, the facility has a dozen or so people working out during any given hour.

With the abundance of exercise equipment and space – three floors – members don’t find themselves waiting to use a piece of equipment.

“We have not had that issue – even with every other piece of equipment marked off,” Baumgardner said. “If there is an upside (to the pandemic), it’s that we’re kind of perfectly set up for this because everything is spread out in our gym, and our membership base is relatively small.”


For more information about the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center and its new safety guidelines, visit its website.