While I’ve “taken the waters” from the hot springs bubbling below Bath, England and West Virginia’s famous White Sulphur Springs, I derived just as many beneficial and healing properties from a much closer destination. Spending the better part of a day at the McConnell Heart Health Center is my close-to-home version of a spa experience.
Located in Columbus next to OhioHealth’s Riverside Methodist Hospital, the center is the result of the philanthropy of John H. McConnell, founder of Worthington Industries, former majority owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets and author of Our Golden Rule, and his wife, Peggy. The McConnells championed the prevention and treatment of heart disease through improved lifestyle habits and rehabilitation.
The McConnell Center integrates health and fitness with preventing heart and musculoskeletal disease and improving the health of those being treated for those diseases. The facility includes cardiovascular and weight-training equipment, a half-court gymnasium, steam rooms and saunas, relaxation and meditation rooms, as well as an indoor track, a 25-meter lap pool and two warm-water pools. The experience is completed by a retail store, a café with a heart-healthy menu, and a health education resource center staffed by physical therapists, registered nurses and dieticians and exercise physiologists who design personal health improvement programs for members. Aquatic, spinning, fitness and education classes are all complimentary for members.
Imagine beginning the day by soaking up the benefits of a warm-water pool that’s reminiscent of a perfectly tempered bath. An hour-long Water Yoga session adapts basic yoga poses for execution in the water to strengthen, stretch, balance and relax. In honor of Thanksgiving, a “Yoga Birds” theme incorporated the Flamingo and Pigeon poses into the routine.
Dry off, change and head for the Mind-Body Studio for Basic Pilates, a class in which dozens of participants learn the proper breathing and form techniques needed to perform modern-day versions of the exercises developed by Joseph Pilates to stretch, strengthen and streamline the body.
Fill the break between classes with the “Workout of the Month,” a combination of moves with stability, BOSU and medicine balls that can be performed at two different levels. An exercise physiologist on the fitness floor can provide exercise modifications as needed.
Next, unroll your mat for Yoga Mix, a moderately-paced class that incorporates a range of standing, sitting, balancing and back-bending poses to connect the breath with movement.
Four hours of exercise calls for a satisfying lunch. Find it in the center’s Longaberger Café, which serves heart-healthy sandwiches and salads. A hot lunch special — like the tasty French dip sandwich with au jus and fresh fruit that I chose — is served Monday through Thursday; a breakfast special is available on Friday.
After lunch, join a half-hour educational session like the one a psychologist with a soothing voice led on “Relaxation Techniques,” describing the benefits of deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and guided imagery.
Come face-to-face with deer also enjoying the trail, read messages spelled in hedge apples, and spot birds making their homes in memorial nesting boxes. Or, experience nature by sitting quietly on one of the benches placed along the trail.
Enter or exit the trail next to the Peggy McConnell Memorial Garden, an area enclosed by tall hedges and a large oak tree that was configured to resemble the letters “P” and “J,” for Peggy’s husband, John. Stone walls surrounding the gardens include motivational messages from Eleanor Roosevelt, Zelda Fitzgerald, Albert Camus and others to stay the course towards developing a stronger heart. “May you live every day of your life,” as Jonathan Swift said.
Peggy’s Path also leads to Big Red’s Lodges, a complex of eight furnished guest lodges that were created in honor of Mr. McConnell, the redhead who was known to his friends as “Big Red.” Constructed in 2008, the lodges made Mr. McConnell’s vision for a health-focused retreat at the center a reality.
Each lodge features a living room, kitchenette, bedroom and bathroom. Amenities include a flat-screen television and fireplace, complimentary high-speed Internet, a king-size bed and a queen-size sleeper sofa, full access to the McConnell Center, a healthy continental breakfast at the Longaberger Café, and the option to schedule appointments with massage therapists, personal trainers and nutritionists. The lodges are reserved by out-of-town visitors or those wishing to stay close to a loved one being cared for at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, Kobacker House or Bing Cancer Center.