Free exercise opportunities in Ottumwa


For many Americans, the struggle to find the time, money, or motivation to exercise is often so overwhelming that physical activity is simply forgotten or nonexistent within the typical day.

For the City of Ottumwa, however, exercise isn’t something that’s only heard of in movies or available for the super-rich.

Because of the efforts of Active Ottumwa, a research project conducted by the University of Iowa Prevention Research Center, dozens of free and fun exercise sessions are popping up all over town with the sole purpose of providing individuals with a place to enjoy physical activity with friends and family.

Active Ottumwa is a 5-year project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to University of Iowa Prevention Research Center Coordinator Heidi Haines, Active Ottumwa is in its second year of service to the greater Ottumwa community.

Haines says the project’s developers “decided to work on physical activity” as the main focus for the City of Ottumwa after the results of a health survey revealed Ottumwa was lacking in physical activity.

In order to function as a project, Active Ottumwa relies on PALs– Physical Activity Leaders– to conduct classes for certain age and wellness groups at varying locations throughout the city.

Haines says PALs are simply community volunteers who, after receiving training from the Prevention Research Center, host exercise classes of interest and relevance to the community.

Current exercise sessions include [but are not limited to] walking groups starting at the Beach Ottumwa, Quincy Place Mall, Jimmy Jones Shelter, and Mount Sinai Church; Zumba classes on Thursdays in August at the Market on Main; exercise sessions before Central Park Cinema presentations; and individual strength training at Downtown Fitness.

Market on Main Operations Manager Shiloh Seim says hosting weekly Zumba sessions on behalf of Active Ottumwa is “a great thing for Ottumwa to do…[as it] encourages a healthier Ottumwa”.

Seim notes that the first Zumba class had a small participation of around 30 people.

Now in its second week of classes, Seim hopes to see a larger turnout for future Thursday night Zumba classes.

Dr. Barbara Baquero, Center Deputy Director and Principal Investigator for Active Ottumwa, notes that Active Ottumwa began providing community programming with the summer of 2016.

“We definitely see some interest,” Baquero says of current programs in Ottumwa.

Baquero says the health initiative in Ottumwa seeks to give community members free health-boosting physical activity sessions that benefit both mind and body.

By providing workout groups, individuals can support each other and meet new people, Baquero notes.

“This is free, and everybody has access to it,” Baquero says, noting that Active Ottumwa will be training a new group of PAL volunteers this fall.

Community members who would like to volunteer as a PAL for Active Ottumwa should know that they can choose the theme, time, and activity base for their exercise sessions.

Baquero stresses the importance of taking advantage of Active Ottumwa’s varying programs, as “[the] PALs are ready” to help individuals get active.

In addition to group workout sessions with Active Ottumwa, community members can visit any of Ottumwa’s 19 parks for individual workout opportunities.

City of Ottumwa Parks and Recreation Department Director Gene Rathje says “there’s all kind of open space where people can go out and exercise” in the community.

Ottumwa’s Parks offer sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, tennis courts, 11 miles of biking and walking trails, and adult fitness equipment [donated by the Rotary Club] in addition to ample green space, Frisbee golf courses, and playground equipment.

“All those facilities are free,” Rathje adds.

Each year, the Parks and Recreation Department spends thousands of dollars updating, maintaining, and adding to Ottumwa’s many parks.

For inexpensive exercise opportunities in Ottumwa, look no further than Active Ottumwa’s countless exercise sessions and Ottumwa’s 19 fun-filled parks.

For more information about Active Ottumwa, the schedule of exercise sessions, or how to volunteer as a community PAL, visit the Facebook page or the website at

For more information about the City of Ottumwa Parks and Recreation Department, visit

For more information about the Market on Main, including Zumba classes, visit

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