Transforming Health


Want to bring more wellness into your life? Here’s where to learn the basics.

by Rona Gindin

We may buy skim milk, or cashew milk, perhaps take a yoga class or walk the dog, then feel we’ve done enough toward living healthfully. Orlando hospitals and other enterprises have a load of additional ideas for keeping our hearts and waistlines in shape. Better yet, many have programming—often free—to help us help ourselves. Here are some of the best offerings out there.

Orlando Health

Living healthfully Through its Healthy Living program, Orlando Health Downtown invites “team members” (employees) and the community to hear monthly speakers on its hospital campuses address subjects such as plant-based foods, smoking cessation or Ditch the Scale (nominal fee).

Buying fresh food Orlando Health holds farmers markets quarterly, rotating between its hospital campuses.

Watching and tasting Local chefs teach how to cook a healthful recipe, offer tastes, then give out packages with nearly all the ingredients to prepare it at home via Lunch and Learn at rotating facilities.

Eating naturally The series From the Ground Up involves free, intensive six-week classes for 12 participants about plant-based eating, such as non-dairy alternatives.

Getting Kids’ Hands in the Dirt Orlando Health works with students at Orange Center Elementary School to prepare the ground for, plant and harvest cilantro, tomatoes, peppers and more, beginning with an annual Plant Day.

Art projects helped children learn about growing and eating vegetables at Orange Center Elementary/Orlando Health’s Plant Day.

Nemours Children’s Hospital

Giving kids rules to thrive by Nemours encourages kids and parents to live by the easy-to-remember 5-2-1-Almost None guidelines—at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day, two hours or less of non-homework screen time, one hour minimum of physical activity and, as for sugary beverages, let consumption be “almost none,” choosing water instead—two juices, soft drinks or sports drinks a week should be the maximum. Nemours shares the message at local health fares, workshops and more.

Florida Hospital

Controlling blood sugar A quarter of Eatonville residents had high blood sugar, so Florida Hospital joined with others to open Healthy Eatonville Place, which offers pre-diabetes and diabetes management courses, healthy cooking lessons and exercise sessions.

Feeding hungry residents The hospital teamed with others to fund the Mt. Sinai Food Co-Op in Parramore, providing fruits and vegetables to the food-insecure since “food is medicine.”

Learning to cook Free cooking demonstrations, often by guest chefs of local restaurants, teach how to cook diabetes-friendly versions of favorite meals via Dining with Diabetes at Florida Hospital Orlando.

Growing veggies The Fleet Farming urban agriculture effort and Winter Park Memorial Hospital are planting a garden. The harvest will be shared with food-needy patients being discharged and shut-in seniors who live nearby.

Starting healthy habits Via Mission Fit, a team from Florida Hospital for Children goes into schools to teach children about incorporating good eating and regular exercise into lifestyle habits for the benefits of physical and mental well-being.

Growing it and cooking it Childhood obesity is the target of the fee-based Healthy Weight and Wellness program by the Florida Hospital for Children. Gardening and cooking workshops, in conjunction with the Edible Education Experience at the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House & Culinary Garden, help children and their families gain healthier habits.

Beginning education early Determined to start kids off with healthy habits, Nemours offers free tools and resources to teachers and administrators of daycare centers, preschools and others serving the 5-and-under set. Suggestions include teaching about healthy habits together with other subjects, such as counting red apples versus green and showing children how foods grow in the ground, helping them form positive associations with fruits and vegetables.

Offering age-appropriate info Nemours’ website is the most-visited in the world for children’s health information. It writes about medical and wellness issues in conversational English and Spanish aimed at children, teenagers and adults, covering topics from gun safety (geared toward school-agers), to sports injuries (teens) and cyberbullying (parents).

Orlando VA Medical Center

Keeping vets in tip-top shape Military veterans who are enrolled at the OVAMC can attend a diabetes education class, a healthy living class that focuses on foods and lowering lipids, and the MOVE weight loss program. They can also have a one-on-one appointment with a registered dietician. What’s more, the Lake Baldwin facility has a drive-through pantry with fruit and meat once a month; a farmer sells produce in Lake Nona weekly; and there are ongoing classes covering topics like yoga, mindfulness, smoking cessation and pain management.

Orange County Parks

Keeping seniors active Both the Renaissance Senior Center and the Marks Street Senior Recreation Complex schedule a variety of activities for the county’s mature residents. Between the two, Baby Boom Ballroom Dance, Dancing Dragon Kung Fu, blood pressure checks, Senior Cardio Kick, Jazzercize, karaoke and even a Psychic Experience are on the roster, among many other offerings. Both facilities have regular free walking programs: Strolling for Pleasure at Marks Street Fridays at 9 a.m. and Walking with Friends nine times weekly at Renaissance. Marks Street also serves a free monthly light lunch during a Lunch ‘n’ Learn program.

Feeding hungry kids Children in after-school Rec Squad programs, holiday breaks and Summer Camp Scooter receive free healthy snacks and meals thanks to a collaboration between the parks department and the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Lake Nona

Living the wellness life This growing community opens its health-oriented events to everyone, not only Lake Nona residents. Check the social media sites to learn about weekly Saturday yoga in the park, bi-weekly gardening classes and large-scale events including Run Nona and the ADA Tour de Cure benefiting the American Diabetes Association. Twice so far Dr. Deepak Chopra has hosted group meditation events, and that could happen again.

Yoga in the Park, Lake Nona

Center for Health & Wellbeing

Learning about gizmos, gadgets, cooking and more While its new Peggy & Philip B. Crosby Wellness Center will have programming and amenities for members, the 4.2-acre state-of-the-art Center for Health & Wellbeing housing it in Winter Park will offer quite a bit for the entire community when it opens this winter. The public is welcome to participate in Community Conference Center lectures, educational programs and classes, cooking demonstrations and small group cooking classes in the Nutrition Theater, some free, others for a fee. A “health technology and resource bar,” modeled on Apple’s Genius Bar, will be a place to take a hands-on look at the latest wearables such as Bluetooth blood glucose monitors, apps and other resources to monitor your health and track your well-being.

City of Orlando

Planting seeds The Callahan Neighborhood Center’s free weekly Community Garden Program teaches children 5 to 10 how to eat healthfully, including gardening skills. The Jackson Neighborhood Center’s Garden Club shows children in the after-school program how to grow edible plants, sometimes with a cooking class. The Rosemont Neighborhood Center’s Garden Club meets Wednesday afternoons to “stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening” in its new garden.

Gaining kitchen skill Teenagers are taught how to cook and eat well, and the value of fitness, at the Reeves Terrace Neighborhood Center Cooking Program. Seniors learn about cooking a new food each week at the Beardall Senior Center’s Cooking Matters in Your Community program. Both are free.

Tending to chickens At the Englewood Neighborhood Center, children learn to grow, cook and eat food in a facility that has a chicken coop, tool sheds and greenhouses on-site.

Central Florida YMCA

Teaching Orlando How to Cook The Central Florida YMCA sends its Director of Healthy Eating, chef Gary Appelsies, on Chef Gary’s Food Fun Tour. That means he visits Ys around Orlando teaching families—including nonmembers, all for free—how to plan meals, understand diet trends and choose healthy groceries. The tour might include cooking demos, informational talks or printed recipes with nutritional info. The recipes are for high-flavor foods that are nutrient-dense yet low in fat, salt and sugar. Facebook Live brings similar lessons to anyone with an Internet connection.

GROW Central Florida

Getting kids moving GROW stands for Grass Roots Outreach Within, and this organization encourages physical activity. Just now expanding beyond Seminole County, GROW sponsors cross-country running and other youth initiatives—at no cost to families—at underfunded elementary schools and works with other wellness programs.