Now Viewing: Physical activity

GirlTrek: Black Women Walking for Body, Mind and Soul

Jul 3, 2014, 10:21 AM, Posted by Keecha Harris

Keecha Harris GirlTrek

I first met my friend Leah in September 2013, when she started walking with GirlTrek in Birmingham, Ala. GirlTrek is a movement of thousands of Black women across the country mobilized in response to the problem of staggering rates of obesity and its co-morbidities. Leah read a local NPR article about Black women walking for wellness under the banner of GirlTrek, and she decided to check it out.

As a GirlTrek volunteer, it is always a pleasure to connect with women new to our local organizing efforts. Leah joined us on a Full Moon Trek. Under celestial brilliance, Leah and I walked into the woods of the Hillsboro Trail as strangers. By the end of the trek, I had a new and humorous sister who fearlessly faced the possibility of running into snakes and other wildlife.

And when there is the promise of a storm, if you want change in your life, walk into it.
If you get on the other side, you will be different.
And if you want change in your life and you’re avoiding the trouble, you can forget it.
—Bernice Johnson Reagon

Friends were exactly what Leah needed. She and her husband had moved to Birmingham in 2007 to escape Michigan winters, and to establish a vibrant community of people with common interests. The winters are warmer here, true—but friends aren’t always easy to come by when you’re a stranger in a new city.

And that was the beginning of Leah’s relationship with a warm, welcoming organization of women passionate about improving their health—and fostering change. In short: she found the new friends she had been seeking. But these friendships gave her much more than she anticipated. Her doctor had delivered the grim news the month before that she was pre-diabetic. So walking with others was very timely.

Leah found herself in good company. GirlTrek has a goal of engaging 1 million Black women and girls in its walking-related programming by 2015. The program is sparking a health revolution, and it does so by building upon the rich cultural legacy and assets of the African American community.

Take, for example, Harriet Tubman. She’s a patron saint to GirlTrek supporters. Tubman was known to walk as many as 15 miles per day in uncut forests, through mossy swamps and across the Appalachian Ridge. Within the course of a decade, Tubman walked north toward freedom with hundreds escaping slavery. If Harriet Tubman could walk her way into new realities, the thinking goes, then so can we.

Leah was intrigued by the Full Moon Trek—and why would she not want to be part of a group of Black women who trekked to the light of the moon?  We connected through Facebook, excited to learn more about each other during a night walk in nature.

Walking to bring about change was a familiar theme for Leah. In fact, she was born to trek.

“Thinking back, walking has always held importance in my life—even before I took my first steps or took my first breath of air. My mother was weeks past her due date. Upon her third trip to the hospital, she was put in a hospital gown and instructed to walk up and down the halls.”

Thereafter, Leah and her mother racked up quite a few miles on foot. On weekends and evenings, her mom walked to relish joy or to ease pains, with little Leah in tow: “She’d walk, and walk, and walk, and walk. My little legs would go as fast as they could to keep up. When we returned home, I’d nearly collapse. But of course the next time she put on her shoes, I’d be ready to go again!“

That began to change in October. Leah has stepped up to lead other walkers to wellness. For the past eight months, she has led daily treks at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. These “smokeless breaks” are about 30 minutes each, with two to six women walking together.  Sometimes they walk to Railroad Park. During inclement weather, they trek inside along the long corridors connecting area hospitals.  

All of that walking has paid off for Leah—in a way that the everyone should applaud her for. In 2003, Leah did her first half-marathon. Over the last eight months, she has lost 30 pounds ... and shaved 17 minutes off her half-marathon time. She is no longer taking Metformin to treat her pre-diabetes. She feels more confident and peaceful. Moreover, Leah has found the warm, vibrant community of friends that she desired when she moved here.

For Leah, there is now no challenge too great. In May, Leah and other GirlTrekkers committed to walk at least 52.4 miles to honor their mothers. She walked at work and on weekends with her 5-year-old daughter, Neah Imani, in tow. Neah’s name means "moving faith."

Movement has been transformational for these three generations of trekkers. Leah’s mom continues to inspire her walking journey. In fact, Leah’s mom lost over 40 pounds in 2013, by walking the hallways at the University during her breaks.  

These days, though, mom can’t keep up with Leah any longer. She says Leah walks too fast. But even though they can’t walk together, they’re still walking in common cause: to heal their bodies, soothe their souls and form community with other black women.

About the Author
Keecha Harris, DrPH, RD is a walking enthusiast who has trekked every day since October 2012.  Her consulting company has provided support to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Childhood Obesity Team and the Research, Evaluation and Learning unit.   

We Do Better When We Do for Others

Apr 14, 2014, 3:15 AM, Posted by Jody L. Struve

Jody’s son mashing it up at MakerFaire NYC Jody’s son mashing it up at MakerFaire NYC

This morning, I figured out how to save the planet. That’s the power of Twitter, friends. (Or that’s the power of Twitter when you’re bleary-eyed at 5:10 a.m., and meant to hit the Weather app to find out if your kids’ school might close, but instead you see a tweet that the United Nations has concluded global warming is indeed our fault, next to a tweet about food trucks, next to one about ...)

Twitter allows you to take in lots of disparate information at odd hours, and that can result in ... odd ideas.

In a flash, I saw an opportunity to solve two problems with one solution—a mash-up, if you will. By 5:15 a.m., still half asleep, looking at my smartphone, it became clear to me that the way to save the planet was to create “energy parks” that generate power through peoples’ physical activity, addressing obesity and climate change in one fell swoop.

Stay with me here.

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Sprinting Toward Workplace Wellness

Dec 6, 2013, 2:25 PM, Posted by Ari Kramer

Graciela Ruiz

Lots of things can turn a person into a health and fitness nut. For many, it might be influence from friends, or a life episode that demonstrates the pitfalls of focusing too little on health.

For Graciela Ruiz, it was just a matter of landing a job at the right place.

When Ruiz started working at Wakefern Food Corp., the merchandizing and distribution arm for ShopRite and PriceRite stores, she was eating lots of processed foods, and exercise figured very little into her routine. She particularly hated running. “I wouldn’t run unless someone was chasing me,” she says.

One day, the organizer of Wakefern’s run/walk club signed her up for the Jersey Shore Relay Marathon. He gave her the race’s shortest leg, a 5K, and she trained hard and did better than expected. Fast forward five years, and Graciela is now highly active in the club and numerous other wellness programs at the company. She says she will “run for two hours and be happy about it,” and has changed her eating habits to a point where “I’ll eat vegetables all day long.”

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Communities Need More Ladders, Fewer Chutes

Nov 8, 2013, 1:33 PM, Posted by Katie Loovis

GSK IMPACT Grants GlaxoSmithKline supports some urban redevelopment projects because they lead to healthier communities—this piece of artwork, for example, inspires community members to bike around town. (Photo: GSK)

Katie Loovis is director of U.S. community partnerships and stakeholder engagement for GlaxoSmithKline, the global health care company. In this role, Katie is responsible for providing leadership and shaping strategy for GSK’s U.S. community engagement and philanthropic activities at the national, state, and local levels, and building relationships.

Chutes and Ladders—one of the greatest board games in human history—is a game of rewards and consequences. You make a move and are met with a benefit (ladder to a higher level) or a detriment (chute to a lower level). All the while, you’re aiming for the top, journeying toward the blue ribbon finish.

Living a long and healthy life is kind of like a game of chutes and ladders. You might go along thinking that by visiting your doctor every year (ladder) and choosing to nosh on lots of veggies (ladder) that you are on-track, but ... sorry! Your neighborhood lacks a grocery store stocked with healthy foods (chute), it doesn’t have any safe parks or green spaces to exercise (chute), you live in a house full of smokers (chute); and to top it all off, you just lost your job in this tough economy (chute !).

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Why Microbes and Albert Einstein are a Part of Our Culture of Health

Jul 19, 2013, 4:09 PM, Posted by Anna Heling

This is the second in a series. Read the first here.

Promoting a “culture of health” isn’t just a 9-to-5 job for RWJF employees; many of them also use their time out of the office to further their push toward health and well-being. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO, describes it, creating a culture of health means having “the kind of values where we can say health, and the policies and practices that go into making sure we are a healthy community, are as much a part of us as are the values that say we pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Below, three more members of the RWJF crew talk about how they’re furthering this healthy mindset throughout the summer months.

 

BRINGING ROLLERBLADING BACK: Christine Nieves (Program Associate, Pioneer Team)

For Nieves, this summer is all about conquering fears. Although she spent her teenage years rollerblading in her native Puerto Rico, her hiatus from the wheels translated into being “terrified” of the activity. Even so, she’s spending her free time getting back into the groove of rollerblading while simultaneously exploring local parks. “It’s more than exercise,” she said. “It’s getting over things that make me nervous and that I’m afraid to do. It’s looking at the things that hold me back and building confidence.”

Nieves and her boyfriend/pseudo-rollerblading coach have already taken to the paved paths of Mercer County Park and Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve (with a goal of rolling around Princeton Stadium “when no one’s looking”).

Lazy patterns of physical activity can lead into lazy patterns of thought, Nieves said, and she reminds herself of this Albert Einstein quote when she’s feeling the urge to slouch on the couch: “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Added Nieves, “Maintaining a culture of health is something that helps me maintain my mind and set physical, professional, and personal goals for myself. I think of it as a holistic thing.”

 

OPENING THAT WINDOW: Lori Melichar (Director)

The New York City dweller was struck by a recent RWJF talk about microbes, the trillions of microorganisms invisible to the naked eye that surround us and interact with our bodies and the environment. Biologist, engineer, and ecologist Jessica Green visited the Foundation and said that our secure, built environment – the buildings where we live, work, and play – may not be the healthiest. By holding tight control over our environments and keeping the outdoors out and the indoors in, Green said the microbes around us are less diverse, which studies suggest increases our risk of interacting with potential pathogens.

With this in mind, Melichar is doing what she can to ramp up her microbial variety. “For one of my recent meetings I went on a walking meeting around the Foundation,” she said. “The way I used to think about that was walking for exercise, and now I think about it as getting a little bit of variation in my microbes. I’d never thought before about this, but it seems like there’s the potential for this variation to be health-increasing.”

She said even opening the window a crack can help: “If you have the window open a bit, microbes from the trees and from the birds and from everything else outside can mix with everything inside that hasn’t gotten out...because we have double-doors on everything.”

 

“GREEN-IFYING” THE HOME: Linda Manning (Program Team Coordinator, Program Service Center)

Along with a 60-year-old house come inevitable renovations, but Manning is choosing to make them green ones. After a faulty lawnmower spit out a rock, breaking a window in her Hamilton home, she and her husband decided to replace their basement windows with those that are more energy efficient.

They’re also re-landscaping to combat the hungry creatures chomping away at the yard. “Rather than spraying all the flowers and plants with a spray – which isn’t always friendly to the environment – we decided to change a lot of the plants to those that will discourage the animals from snacking on them,” Manning said.

Keeping her home tidy and up-to-date helps her stay healthy, too. “I’ve had a lot of health problems that are not controlled by the environment, but I find that, if I do these things, it makes me feel better,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I have a really clean home. I think it just makes everybody healthier.”

How We're Furthering the Culture of Health This Summer

Jun 19, 2013, 3:28 PM, Posted by Anna Heling

Teaching kids where food comes from RWJF Program Officer Jasmine Hall Ratliff said a trip to the strawberry patch was a great way to show her 3-year-old daughter where food comes from.

Promoting a “culture of health” isn’t just a 9-to-5 job for RWJF employees; many of them also use their time out of the office to further their push toward health and well-being. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO, describes it, creating a culture of health means having “the kind of values where we can say health, and the policies and practices that go into making sure we are a healthy community, are as much a part of us as are the values that say we pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Here, in the first in a series, members of the RWJF crew talk about how they’re furthering this healthy mindset throughout the summer months.

BEING A HEALTHY ROLE MODEL: Jasmine Hall Ratliff (Program Officer for the Childhood Obesity team)

After losing her mother to cancer at a young age, Hall Ratliff grew up with a single father who instilled in her the importance of healthy living: he used the office gym, cooked at home and encouraged the kids to participate in sports. Now, as a relatively new mom herself, Hall Ratliff is working to foster that same culture of health in her 3-year-old daughter Beverly. She said the family’s garden on the balcony and trips to the local strawberry patch help demonstrate where food comes from and the importance of local produce. For Hall Ratliff, losing her mother to cancer and her dad’s subsequent healthy role modeling reinforced the importance of creating a culture of health. “Losing my mother to cancer at a young age makes me value my own health and do all I can to prevent the diseases that I can prevent. It’s important to me, and I want my daughter to understand healthy living.”

BIKING UP THE COAST OF CONNECTICUT: Robin Hogen (Vice President, Communications)

For the second year in a row, Hogen will bike the 100-mile route from Stamford to Essex to benefit the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, an organization that provides free legal assistance to veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness. The cycling enthusiast heard about the Legal Center from a friend and said pushing the pedals is a healthy way to raise money for a cause that’s important to him. He’s prepping for the ride by cycling a few times a week, as well as keeping active through running and sailing. As for the ride, he said it’s all about the exercise—and the organization: “You have to remind yourself that it’s not a race; it’s about finishing. Not finishing first…just finishing.”

GIVING BEES A HOME: Sherry DeMarchi (Communications Specialist)

The animal lover and her husband are prepping their yard for a new type of creature: bees. DeMarchi said she recently learned that the number of wild bee colonies is dwindling fast, which research shows will have an effect on the availability of fruits and vegetables (they pollinate many agricultural crops). “Because of the high use of insecticides and pesticides and habitat loss, we’re seeing this dramatic decrease in the abundance of these bees,” DeMarchi said. “Although it doesn’t involve a lot of physical activity, we feel that we’re contributing toward the culture of health by working toward keeping these important little beings in the ecosystem so they can pollinate…and everybody can eat.” DeMarchi’s prepping her yard for the thousands of visitors, building the hives in an old fort of her son’s and visiting friends who’ve “housed” bees themselves to get some tips.