Lisa Charles leads a cardio fitness class at Newark Housing Authority clubhouse

New Jersey Department of Health Grant will Help Rutgers University-Newark Provide Free Virtual Wellness Programs for African American Seniors

COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, a tremendous impact upon the African American communities of Metropolitan Newark, especially older residents. According to the NJDOH, Essex County has the 3rd highest reported number of COVID-19 confirmed cases statewide, and African Americans account for almost a quarter of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey (and almost 4 in 5 of those are people ages 65 and older).  This disparity is due, in part, to multiple underlying health conditions that disproportionately affect the African-American community and which can cause more severe illness in COVID-19 cases; these include hypertension, diabetes, poor cardiovascular health, and obesity. However, regular physical exercise, and improved aerobic fitness, can help improve all these health conditions.

 Our ultimate goal is to keep all our community members safe from both COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s Disease.

To help combat this disparity, The New Jersey Department of Health’s (NJDOH) Office of Minority and Multicultural Health recently announced a new grant award to the Aging and Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers University-Newark to expand their efforts to improve the health of Newark area African American seniors. The program, titled “Improving Brain Health and Reducing COVID-19 Risk for Home-Bound Older African Americans in Metropolitan Newark Through Online and Telephonic Fitness and Wellness Programming”, launched this summer. The grant will support a series of free weekly home-based exercise classes and wellness programs available to the general public. Participants can join all programming via Zoom video conferencing using their computer, tablet, or smartphone if they have WiFi/internet access. There is also a phone-in fitness class option. According to Professor Mark A. Gluck of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, the Principal Investigator on the new award, “This new program allows us to expand our community engagement in response to COVID-19. Our ultimate goal is to keep all our community members safe from both COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s Disease”.

These fitness classes and wellness programming will be run by Lisa Charles, CEO of Embrace Your Fitness, LLC and the Exercise and Fitness Research Coordinator for the Aging & Brain Health Alliance.  The fitness and wellness programming entails weekly e-mail or text wellness alerts, healthy eating and fitness challenges, and fitness classes on Wednesdays 10am – 10:45am and wellness workshops on Fridays 10am – 11am. She explains further, “Our Fit Mind Fit Body program is designed to educate participants on how to eat healthy, move more, sleep soundly, lose weight, and stress less; its core mission is to transform lives and create a lasting legacy of wellness within the African-American community. Starting and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits are key to prepare our bodies to fight off any illness, including COVID-19.”

These fitness classes and wellness events have been running since Spring 2020, initially with a small cohort of community members who were already part of the Rutgers-Newark “Pathways to Healthy Aging in African Americans” study that is funded by grants from both the National Institutes for Health and the NJDOH. In Fall 2020, the Aging & Brain Health Alliance is opening this programming free to any resident of Metropolitan Newark (including Irvington and East Orange) who is African American and age 60 or older. To register for these free phone-based exercise and wellness classes, people can either email or call (973) 353-3673 to leave a voice message with their name, age, city of residence, and contact information.

Additional contact information: Dr. Mark A. Gluck, or email:

PHOTO CAPTION: Lisa Charles, the Exercise and Fitness Research Coordinator for Rutgers-Newark's Aging & Brain Health Alliance, leads a cardio-dance fitness program at the Newark Housing Authority clubhouse (April, 2019).