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February marks another milestone in the movement for a healthier generation - the 3rd year anniversary of the Let's Move! campaign. This month, Be Active Your Way bloggers will reflect on work that has been done to combat childhood obesity, as well as the road ahead.

To celebrate the Anniversary of Let's Move!, you'll hear from:

Physical Environment and Physical Activity

by YMCA July 27, 2011

There are many reasons why individuals might not meet the Physical Activity Guidelines, but one major factor is the physical environment that surrounds them. When people don't have the option to make the healthy choice regarding their participation in physical activities, there is no possible way they can do it.

Over the past several decades, our society has engineered physical activity out of our lifestyles. For example, 13% of children five to fourteen years old usually walked or biked to school in 2009, compared with 48% of students in 1969. For a long time, neighborhoods were being built without regard for pedestrians, putting the needs of the driver first. Safe biking lanes, walking paths that connected places where people wanted to go, and a variety of safe outdoor play spaces were all but engineered out of most built environments. Schools were being put in a position where they had to eliminate physical education, whether for budget reasons or to meet academic goals. Offices were built without bike racks, employee changing areas, or easy to use staircases, further enhancing less physical activity instead of more.

Fortunately, things are starting to change. A healthier communities movement is building across the nation. The Y, along with other national organizations, is leading the way. Since 2004, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other corporate and foundation donors, the Y has engaged leaders in 200 communities in working together to implement strategies that provide opportunities for physical activity.

YMCAs engaged in our Healthier Communities Initiative (pioneering Healthier Communities, Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities and ACHIEVE) are helping families by giving parents peace of mind when they let their kids walk to school. The initiative is focused on creating safer routes, making streets safe for all users whether they are on foot or on wheels. The organizations strive to keep a generation of kids healthier by working with schools to increase physical education and physical activity during the school day, and making recess periods more active. The initiative also encourages employers to build environments that support activity among their employees. These examples are just the beginning.

How healthy is your community? What are examples of your community's efforts to change the built environment so more people engage in physical activity to meet the PA guidelines? How are you helping people see that their own built environment supports or inhibits meeting these guidelines? What barriers are there, and how can you work with other leaders in your community to collaboratively remove those barriers?

Healthy Worksites Create Healthy Communities

by IHRSA July 13, 2011

Safe and effective places for physical activity - such as bike paths, green space and fitness centers - are only half of the equation when it comes to establishing an active community culture. The other half is creating opportunities for community members to take advantage of the active infrastructure. And creating those opportunities, at a time when sedentary forces are overwhelming our cultural norms, is largely a function of policymaking.

There's a role, of course, for national/state/local policymakers, but there is also an emerging, and very encouraging consensus that worksite policies promoting physical activity are critical to building healthier communities.

A recent study published by the PLoS One Journal underscored the importance of worksite policies encouraging physical activity and drew a direct connection to the obesity epidemic. The study found that "over the last 50 years in the U.S. we estimate that daily occupation-related energy expenditure has decreased by more than 100 calories, and this reduction in energy expenditure accounts for a significant portion of the increase in mean U.S. body weights for women and men."

In other words, we've become less active at work and the decrease in activity has had a measurable impact on our nation's obesity rate.

Barbara E. Ainsworth, the president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine and an exercise researcher at Arizona State University, described the findings as a "lightbulb, 'aha' moment."

"I think occupational activity is part of that missing puzzle that is so difficult to measure, and is probably contributing to the inactivity and creeping obesity that we're seeing over time," added Ainsworth.

Fortunately, it appears that corporate America is tightening its embrace of the benefits of a physically fit workforce. The Washington Post, for example, recently reported on a Mercer study finding that the "number of companies with 20,000 or more employees that provided fitness centers, subsidies or discounts grew by 11 percent from a year earlier." The same article noted that a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that "the proportion of companies offering gym benefits has held steady since 2007. During the same period, many employers were paring retirement and other financial benefits because of the recession."

As has been discussed in previous posts, the National Physical Activity Plan is leading the movement toward a more physically active nation, with a particular focus on harnessing the power of the business and industry sectors to transform the health of our communities and nation's approach to wellness. In the coming months, the National Plan is expected to generate a CEO Pledge for executives dedicated to providing physical activity opportunities for employees, as well as best practices resources for creating an organizational environment that supports physical activity. I look forward to providing updates in this space as they become available.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from folks who have implemented corporate physical activity programs. What's worked? What hasn't?

Building Healthy Communities

by ACSM July 6, 2011

When we talk about "building healthy communities," we don't just mean improving the overall level of health and fitness of our fellow citizens. We mean, literally, building - as in, shovels, bricks, sod and structures. The built environment has much to do with how fit we are. How fit is your community?

Are there bike lanes so you can safely commute to work? Bike racks on buses and at your destination? Does your town have a series of parks within a quick walk for families? Can kids walk safely to school? If you live or work on a campus of buildings, are there places to walk and play outside?

Fitness is more than exercise classes or team sports. Our activities of daily living can add up to many minutes of healthy exercise, helping us regularly reach levels recommended in the federal guidelines. The opportunities vary from one community to another. While one region may have trails for cross-country skiing, another offers pocket parks. Zoning requirements may call for sidewalks for new construction or redevelopment. A closed school may become a community center with ballparks and playgrounds. It takes a fit community to create a fit population. The time to act is now!

The (Link Removed) includes strategies to encourage measures such as active transportation, many of which involve land-use planning, economic development, infrastructure choices and public policy. Some of these are large-scale, public undertakings involving networks of greenways and trails. Other efforts are within reach for small groups to accomplish. Many times, volunteers have built a playground over a weekend or turned abandoned lot into playground.

The old mantra "Think globally, act locally" applies here. We can take steps as individuals and groups while pursuing more comprehensive approaches. Examples of the latter include:

  • Incentives to locate public facilities (such as schools and post offices) within convenient walking distance of major residential areas
  • Adoption of "Complete Street" standards to encourage roadways amenable to those on foot, on bicycle or using wheelchairs
  • Support for active transportation programs such as Safe Routes to School and Bike-to-Work
  • Integrated development standards that incorporate land-use, transportation, community design, parks, trails and greenways, and economic development planning
  • Adoption of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design to enhance personal safety and increase physical activity

Meanwhile, there are opportunities in every community to make active lifestyles more accessible. It starts with taking a creative look at the world around us and a desire to help our families and fellow citizens achieve better health through activities of daily living. If you skip the office elevator or park in the out-lot to get in a few more steps, why not begin a workplace wellness program? Can you look into a Walking School Bus program at your neighborhood school? What would it take to a create a pocket park in the vacant lot down the street? The American College of Sports Medicine has developed the American Fitness Index, which you can use to rate your community's support for active lifestyles and healthy residents.

Exercise your imagination and see what opportunities you can create.

What can you do to work toward a built environment that encourages more active lifestyles in your community?

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