How Downtown El Pasoans are changing their outlook with every step

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By Caitlin Cook

Living near construction can take a toll on one’s quality of life. Residents of downtown El Paso have experienced this first hand- from the laying down of StreetCar Project tracks to the Bassett Tower renovation, getting outdoors in the few quiet places they can has been a refuge from the stress of the city.

Elisa Dobler, a Therapist and Outreach Coordinator at the El Paso Child Guidance Center, knows this well.

“Anytime there is an increase in loud, disruptive noise, it may cause stress in those who experience it daily,” Dobler said.  “The [World Health Organization] has written on the ‘Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise’ and the detrimental health effects.”

One escape residents have found has been through Downtown El Paso Fitness, also known as DTEPFIT. The group meets on Saturday mornings at 7:30 from July to October. Workouts vary from Zumba to mixed fit, and are designed to be accessible to all people.

Run by director Walter Cupa, the program holds the happiness of its participants in high importance.

Throughout my personal training career, I’ve learned that exercise is key when overcoming emotional obstacles, and coping with day to day stress,” Cupa said. “One of the main reasons I started DTEPFIT is because I know, from personal experience, and from my personal training career, how much a healthy lifestyle can impact your quality of life.”

Bettering the lives of participants, Cupa says, is a large part of his mission; he has proudly seen it pay off throughout his program. Not only has DTEPFIT had a large returning rate, but he’s seen the mental state of his those who return improve.

“I have definitely noticed a change in participants that have been consistent. They are more talkative and outgoing,” Cupa said. “They also seem to become more energetic over time.  As I get to know the participants, I notice their lives become more productive overall.

Photo by Caitlyn Cook for Journalism in July

Photo by Caitlyn Cook for Journalism in July

For those nearby, DTEPFIT is not all that San Jacinto Plaza has to offer. Since its reopening on April 16, 2016, the plaza has been used by many parents who bring their children on free summer days.

Rick Castillo is a father of two who recognized a need for his family to spend time outside and downtown. “It’s just quality time with the kids,” he said, “especially with the art museum around here too.”

In the middle of July, he also explained how he keeps his children cool and, more importantly, hydrated.

“A lot of water,” Castillo said. “They have that splash park, which is nice also.”

Being outside and active is key to improved mental health and quality of life. This is especially true for children, Dobler said.

Outdoor activity has been shown to help decrease levels of anxiety and depression as it causes people’s mood to improve,” Dobler said. “Exercise has been well documented as creating endorphins in the brain, which also boosts mood and self-esteem.”

Dobler also saw a clear path to repairing the issue through daily exercise, socialization and time spent outdoors.

“Again, any kind of exercise or stress-relieving activity such as meditation would benefit people living in construction areas,” Dobler said. “Children benefit from physical activity just as adults do and it enables children to better focus in school, to maintain healthy bodies and it has also shown to improve sleep in children.”

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