Category Archives: Physical activity
More than half of youths in the United States have access to parks or playground areas; recreation centers; boys’ and girls’ clubs; and walking paths or sidewalks in their neighborhoods, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, 2014.
While that information might conjure up images of newly built, dedicated playgrounds, the reality is different...and less expensive. Thousands of communities have created physical activity opportunities by developing shared use agreements with schools to allow the use of facilities after school hours and on weekends.
In 2011, for example, the nonprofit Partners for Active Living (PAL), in Spartanburg, S.C., met with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and learned that while the city did have access to defunct school facilities, it had no shared use agreements that would let PAL use school facilities for exercise. With help from a board member (who was also a member of the city council) and online resources for shared use agreements, PAL was able to move the concept forward by showing that:
- Under South Carolina law, school districts and third parties would be protected under the recreational user statute.
- The South Carolina Tort Claims Act imposes the same liabilities and protections both during and after the school day.
- The school district may be liable for negligent supervision of a student only if a duty is executed in a grossly negligent manner.
After about a year of discussions with parents, activists, policymakers, school officials and others, agreements were worked out in 2012 for school soccer fields, basketball courts, trails, playgrounds and football fields to remain open to the community on weekends and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on non-school days and after school until 6 p.m. on school days, with supervision by the Parks and Recreation Department to deal with damage, vandalism and other concerns. The agreement is automatically renewed every five years unless amended. To promote the continued usage of school playgrounds, the department will offer regularly scheduled programming at each site and PAL will be tracking usage.
In the wake of disasters communities often share stories of resiliency, not just to show how far they have come, but to model for others the critical need for an infrastructure of planning and preparedness when disaster hits. When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last year, Achilles International, a non-profit group that pairs able-bodied runners with disabled people, already had a chapter in place in the Boston area.
The group reached out using social media, as well as bright yellow banners and shirts during twice-weekly training sessions along the Charles River, to help attract attention and encourage Bostonian volunteers and potential athletes to join up. One survivor did. Thirty-one-year old Mery Daniel, a single mother of a five-year-old, who is close to completing her medical boards to become a general practitioner physician, lost one leg and suffered damage to the other during the blast. She joined up with Achilles and ran its 5K Hope and Possibility race—her first race ever—using a hand cycle last June.
The community rallying around the Boston Marathon over the last year has resulted in several new competitors joining up to compete in the Boston Marathon. A team of thirty differently abled Achilles runners, each with at least one guide for the race, will be wearing yellow Achilles shirts in today’s marathon. Their disabilities—ranging from Dwarfism and scoliosis to visual impairment—have not held them back.
“The stories about the survivors’ recoveries brought attention to the fact that people with disabilities have opportunities to do things they enjoy and learn new skills,” said Eleanor Cox, director of chapter development for Achilles. “So when the chapter put extra effort this past year into outreach through social media, word of mouth and the bright yellow banners on the Charles—matched up with people wanting to volunteer and people with disabilities wondering what was possible—it turned a previously quieter Achilles chapter into a strong one. Boston Strong.”
>>Bonus Link: Read more from Boston Marathon Survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis on Recovery, Care, and Collaboration on the RWJF Culture of Health blog.
Why walk? Well, today’s a good day to walk because it’s National Walking Day, an event hosted by the American Heart Association (AHA). And also every day is a good day to walk because research from the AHA finds that thirty minutes of walking each day had health benefits that include:
- Weight loss
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Increased well being
Walking, like other forms of exercise, releases endorphins linked to reduced depression and increased happiness—which certainly seems to be the case for the folks in the video PSA, Just Walk!, from the American Heart Association.
- National Walking Day
- 2013 Vital Signs report on the benefits of walking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“College is certainly a different experience today than it was in my day,” said an audience participant at a panel discussion late last week on campus health initiatives at the Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington, D.C. The partnership is a nonprofit that includes health leaders working on childhood obesity issues.
The college health panel, moderated by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who is the president of the University of Miami and co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, included Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services; Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, a historically Black college in Atlanta; and Michael Goldstein, Associate Vice-Provost for the Healthy Campus Initiative, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
A driving force behind health and wellness improvement initiatives on campus—including bike and walking paths, more staircases and smoking bans—is the opportunity to help students make changes that will last their lifetimes.
- At Spelman several years ago, Tatum canceled the schools’ competitive sports program—which was benefitting less than 5 percent of the 2,000-person student body—and replaced it with a “wellness revolution.” The campus-wide programs include “Body Fat Tuesday” weekly checks, new exercise equipment and a “PE for life” initiative that includes integrating such things as lunges and squats for students waiting for tennis courts to encourage greater physical activity.
- Changes at UCLA include a new restaurant, the Bruin Plate. Entrees—none more than 400 calories each—include root-vegetable tagine; a red-quinoa-and-sweet-potato burger with pineapple salsa; and chicken with dates, polenta and spinach. Side dishes have no more than 200 calories each and there are no French fries, traditional desserts, cured meats or heavily processed foods. The restaurant serves only calorie-free sodas and house-made infused waters with flavors such as pineapple-mango-hibiscus, vanilla-peach and butternut squash. Desserts have been overhauled and include seasonal fruit with balsamic sauces and lower-calorie quick breads.
- Changes on the George Washington University campus, which is just blocks from the White House, include indoor and outdoor bike racks, four bike rental stations, widened pathways and changes at the Food Court to include many healthier options. Goldman says that since the school is in the middle of the city, rather than a closed campus, many of the changes were also aimed at benefitting the community residents.
“A lot has changed since campuses were filled with cigarette smoke and offered just a single dining hall with a set menu,” said Shalala. “We have a captive audience, and campuses are good places to learn healthy habits.” Recent changes at the University of Miami include more visible staircases and signage pointing to the stairs; widened walkways for walking and biking; bike repair stations; outdoor fitness equipment; and farmer’s markets.
Texting while walking can have a way of changing where we go...such as into a tree trunk or a fountain. However, a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE finds that texting also dramatically changes how we walk.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia analyzed 26 health people while walking normally, while reading texts on a cell phone, and while writing a text themselves. They looked at speed and gait, as well as the positions of their heads, torso and arms.
They found that, essentially, when we walk and text we walk in a way that makes texting easier. That focus has a significant impact on our movements, which limits the health benefits of the physical activity.
“We walk much slower when handling a cell phone (even moreso while texting than reading), and we're not very good at sticking to a straight line. Not surprisingly, we tend to keep our heads down, our necks immobile, and our arms locked at our sides. We don't swing our arms, which can be a crucial part of staying balanced while moving.”
Read more at Atlantic Cities.
Recommended Reading: As 2014 Begins, the Stanford Football Team is an Exercise Model for the Rest of Us
As the new year begins, the United States is awash in millions of people resolved to go to the gym, run many miles every day, blow the dust off the treadmill in the basement and park yards away from the office front door. But a recent article in The New York Times on the exercise regimen of the Stanford University football team finds that slow and steady, rather than extreme, may be the effective approach toward injury-reduced, successful exercise.
While Stanford lost its Rose Bowl game against Michigan State yesterday, the team’s players have ended the season ahead of many of their competitors in injuries avoided and games missed. What’s different at Stanford is a training regimen by Conditioning Coach Sean Turley, which focuses on each player’s abilities and the muscles and strength they need most to prevent injuries, as well as get their own jobs done on the football field.
The Times reports that from 2006, the year before Turley arrived at Stanford, through last season, the number of games missed because of injury dropped by 87 percent. In 2012, only two players required season-ending or postseason surgical repair, and this year only one did. “For the subtle art of injury prevention, the [Stanford football players] stretch and stretch and stretch. They stretch before and after lifts and before and after practice. They stretch for fun.”
And think again if you think that’s just a regimen needed for elite football players. “These are things that you do for Grandma and Grandpa,” says a Stanford yoga instructor who helps train the team.
>>Bonus Link: Read a U.S. Food and Drug Administration update reminding consumers that, despite advertising they may have seen, dietary supplements cannot prevent concussions.
HUD to Grant Millions in Rental Assistance for Senior Housing Developments
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $14.8 million to preserve affordable rental assistance for elderly tenants living in subsidized properties. This funding is provided through HUD’s Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contracts and is targeted for properties in HUD’s “Supportive Housing for the Elderly” program, where rental assistance may expire without the new funding. Read more on aging.
U.S. Forest Service Will Waive Some Recreation Fees Five Times in 2014
The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on: Jan. 20, 2014, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; President's Day weekend Feb. 15-17; National Get Outdoors Day on June 14; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27; and Veterans Day weekend from Nov. 8 to 11.
Get Outdoors Days helps to raise awareness that nature encourages healthy, active outdoor fun. In addition to waiving fees, various Forest Service units participate in a variety of public events on agency lands and in nearby cities and towns. Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands. Agency units plan their own events, which range from educational programs to trash pick-up to building trails.
National forests and grasslands include more than 150,000 miles of trails, which include hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.
Many sites are already free; fees that could be waived under the program include picnic grounds and admission to visitor centers. Read more on physical activity.
Healthier Holiday Ideas from the USDA
As its holiday gift, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some healthy tweaks for consumers to help make holiday celebrations healthier including ideas for lighter cocktail fare, lower sugar and lower fat recipes for baked goods, and gift-giving ideas that focus on physical activity. Read more on obesity.
The normally hectic pre-Thanksgiving travel day could be more frenzied than usual this year because of predicted storms in the west that could move east—and storms are often a precursor to flight delays. So why not use the extra time to get a jump start on 2014 resolutions?
Mindful that air passengers are captive audiences, many airports have added fitness options ranging from trail markers to let you know how far you’ve walked on the airport’s walking trail (Baltimore Washington International) to a yoga room (San Francisco International and Dallas Fort Worth) and even a full fitness center with workout clothes for rent (Toronto Pearson).
Airport Hotel Gyms
While most airports don’t yet have a gym right on the premises, a growing number of airports have hotels with attached gyms in one of the terminals, including Chicago O’Hare and Orlando International. (The hotels are located outside of the security areas, so if you’re planning a workout, build in the time you need to shower, dress and clear security before boarding your flight.) Passes to the airport gyms are typically under $20 per person. Check your airport’s website for hotels onsite, and then check the hotel to find out rates and rules for short term use. And remember to wear your sneakers to the airport so you’re sure you have them for the workout.
Airport Walking Trails
In addition to the walking trail at Baltimore Washington International, a growing number of airports have marked walking trails. Keep that in mind when you pack your carryon, as there aren’t usually storage facilities for luggage once you pass security, though for $39-50 you can get a day pass at many airline clubs where you can find a quiet corner, snacks and a place to store you hand luggage while you walk the indoor trail. Ask at the airport information desk where the trail begins, or check the American Heart Association walking path website or phone app, and put in “airport” for the search engine section marked “type of path.”
More than 145 million adults now include walking as part of a physically active lifestyle, according to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year. More than 6 in 10 people walk for transportation or for fun, relaxation, or exercise, or for activities such as walking the dog. The percentage of people who report walking at least once for 10 minutes or more in the previous week rose from 56 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2010.
But creating communities amenable for walking takes much more than the proverbial “putting one foot ahead of the other.” Over the last decade, more and more communities have done local walkability assessments, added sidewalks, installed or improved crossing signs and signals, and vastly increased programs such as Walking School Bus, which encourages parents and kids who live a mile or less from school to join safe walking programs.
And behind most of these advances is a walkability advocate who knows the transportation chiefs, the local policymakers and the laws in other jurisdictions that promote or dissuade walking. In Boston, that person is Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to improving walking conditions in cities and towns across Massachusetts.
“Our goal is to make walking and pedestrian needs a basic part of the transportation discussion,” says Landman.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Landman at WalkBoston’s central Boston offices during our visit to the city for the recent American Public Health Association annual meeting.
NewPublicHealth: Why is walking advocacy so important?
Wendy Landman: At WalkBoston we sometimes describe walking as the club that everybody belongs to and nobody joins. Because it’s such a basic element of what every human being does, walking often gets forgotten, and it gets forgotten in many different ways. At the most basic level, walking is often left out of land-use planning and civil engineering. We forget to incorporate sidewalks and safe-street crossings. We forget to design and build our communities so that people can actually walk between places—whether it is kids walking to school or to a friend’s house, or adults walking to shops or church. That’s not to say that we should all live in a scale that’s just walkable, but many things that we do every day, day in and day out, would be better for human beings and for the planet if we could walk to some of them.
Research shows that people invariably look at Mondays as a time to reconsider their habits and even perhaps to make changes in their lives. The Monday Campaigns movement is a non-profit initiative that works to make healthy behaviors a focus at the beginning of every week.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Rachelle Reeder, Program & Research Associate at The Monday Campaigns, about how their efforts are helping to improve public health.
NewPublicHealth: We’re very interested about the Monday conferences and college students. Are they a specific demographic that you’re targeting now?
Rachelle Reeder: Yes. We’ve been targeting many different groups, whether it’s hospitals, college students, K-12. We target a lot of different groups depending on the campaigns. We provide universities—or any of our partners, but universities particularly—with catchy social marketing campaigns to kind of help and encourage the students to adopt and sustain healthy behaviors, and we do everything for free. So we might be working with student health centers, with food service providers, wellness teams or student groups themselves. But our organization is this blend of marketers and public health professionals, so usually what we’re able to offer universities are these compelling, creative campaigns that are also backed by research and a theory.
So that’s one of the great things about the Monday campaigns. And actually, I’m a public health professional myself and I’ve seen a lot of universities or public health services out there and they’re doing great things, but they don’t always have the skills or the capacity to market themselves, so that’s kind of where we step in and provide them with that marketing and creative expertise.
NPH: How would the efforts toward college students be different than they would be toward an older or even a younger demographic?
Reeder: It just kind of depends on the tone of the different campaigns that we take. For instance, we have Man Up Monday, which was really successful over at Murray State University. That campaign has kind of a cheeky sort of fun vibe that’s supposed to be a little bit funny, but what it is it’s reaching out to young men and it’s all about sexual health. Basically they encourage young men to engage in healthy sexual behavior on Mondays, to use Monday as the day to restock condoms, to make an appointment to get tested or to just reflect on decisions over the weekend. So that’s just an example of one of our university partners and that campaign wouldn’t necessarily be something we’d target for younger audiences or something like that.