Category Archives: Physical activity
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.
A recent article in The Atlantic on the history of competitive sports among American kids led The New York Times to write a wide-ranging debate on the pros and cons of competitive sports for kids and teenagers. The pivotal question: Do competitive sports overwhelm childhood or enhance it?
It’s an important debate. Sports can represent a gateway to a life of enjoyable exercise, good for both the heart and mind. But they also pose, as currently played, some significant risks. These include the risk of injury or even death and unhealthy competitive traits, all of which can be a turn-off for physical activity of all kinds for kids made to play and practice against their will.
Those weighing in on the Times’ debate pages include the head of Little League International, who says sports teach kids valuable lessons; a sociologist who says that since so few kids ever make their living in professional sports, we need a greater emphasis on education than athletics; and the head of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, who says that most children's bodies are not capable of playing one sport day after day, for years on end, and because of this many kids have bone and joint injuries.
>>Bonus Links: Read NewPublicHealth interviews on preventing concussions in youth sports with MacArthur fellow Kevin Guskiewicz, and Robert Faherty, VP and Commissioner of the Babe Ruth youth baseball league.
In the last decade or so, leaders in the field of architecture have begun to look at not just the aesthetics of building and community design, but also their own impact on the health of communities. In New York City, for example, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architecture’s New York chapter partnered with several agencies in New York City, including the departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, Design and Construction, Transportation, City Planning, and Office of Management and Budget, as well as research architects and city planners to create the city’s Active Design Guidelines. These provide architects and urban designers with a manual of strategies for creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces, based on the latest academic research and best practices in the field. The Guidelines include:
- Urban design strategies for creating neighborhoods, streets, and outdoor spaces that encourage walking, bicycling, and active transportation and recreation.
- Building design strategies for promoting active living where we work and live and play, through the placement and design of stairs, elevators, and indoor and outdoor spaces.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Rick Bell, policy director of AIA New York, who was instrumental in the creation of the guidelines, about the burgeoning intersection between design and healthier communities.
>>Read more on architecture and design for a fit nation.
NewPublicHealth: How did AIA New York become involved in healthy design with the city of New York?
In the national conversation on the spreading epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases, and the ways in which public health initiatives can fight these issues, architecture and design are continuing to play a leading role in developing fit and healthy solutions. The way a community or a school or a store or a workplace is built can actually influence physical activity, access to healthier food and more to help create an overall fitter nation.
FitNation is an initiative that highlights innovative design strategies across the country to get people healthy and moving. These projects, which stretch across the realms of local and national policy and grassroots-driven action to urban improvements, are brought together in FitNation as inspired by New York City’s Active Design Guidelines and the annual Fit City Conference, which is a partnership between the American Institute of Architects New York and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Here is a selection of some of the creative solutions featured in FitNation that were developed to help individuals and communities lead happier and healthier lives.
Red Swing Project
Design by Hatch Workshop and University of Texas at Austin Architecture Students
Starting in Austin, Texas, a group of architecture students seeking to make better use of public spaces started the Red Swing Project, an open source initiative to transform some unexpected places into playgrounds. The swings consist of a piece of scrap wood, painted red, and rock climbing rope and have popped up all over the world—transforming areas hit by natural disasters, lining a bicycle path from Paris to Barcelona, and below an interstate overpass. You can track the project online with a geo-tagged map or through #redswingproject on Instagram and Facebook.
Urban Farming Food Chain, Edible Wall
Design by Elmslie Osler, Architect
Los Angeles, CA
We all know that some of the healthiest foods grow on trees, but now in Los Angeles thanks to the Urban Farming Food Chain, they can grow on walls too. The Food Chain consists of “edible walls” that grow fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, intended to provide economically disadvantaged populations with healthier food options. The walls are installed on pre-existing structures and have storage for tools, seeds and soil. This project’s vertical angle on community gardens help provide social activities as well as the opportunity to share and develop skills and healthy habits.
International Making Cities Livable Conference: UCLA’s Richard Jackson on Shaping Healthy Suburban Communities
"We have medicalized what is in fact an environmental-driven set of diseases," said Richard Jackson, MD, MPH, professor and chair of environmental health science at the UCLA School of Public Health, in a keynote presentation that energized and galvanized discussion among the diverse audience of city planners, architects and public officials at this week’s International Making Cities Livable Conference. This year’s conference focuses on bringing together a vision— across sectors—of how to shape healthy suburban communities.
Jackson, a prominent pediatrician and host of the “Designing Healthy Communities” series that aired on PBS, told an all-too-familiar story of a child who comes into a doctor’s office overweight and with alarming cholesterol and blood pressure results even at a young age. So the doctor prescribes behavior change: No soft drinks in the house. No screens in the bedroom. Exercise, do more, and come back in two months. In two months, what’s changed? Nothing. The food at school is still unhealthy, the neighborhood is still unsafe to play in and the family still uses the car to get absolutely everywhere because there is no other choice. The likely outcome for that child and so many others, said Jackson, is to end up on costly cholesterol medication just two months later when the child’s vital statistics continue to spiral out of control.
"It’s a 20th century idea that our minds are separated from our bodies, and our communities are separated from ourselves,” he Jackson, who reminded the crowd that the most critical health advancements in the last century took place because of changes in infrastructure, not medicine—primarily new sanitary standards to curb out-of-control infectious disease.
Now, said Jackson, “We’ve built America around the car” and we need a whole new set of infrastructure changes to re-build communities that offer better opportunities for health as part of everyday life. “The built environment is social policy in concrete.”
As school winds down and camps and sports prepare for the summer season, a new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the American Journal of Public Health on sports-related traumatic brain injuries in youth sports, is generating deserved attention.
The study, by Hosea Harvey, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Law at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, found that while forty four states and Washington, D.C., passed youth sport TBI laws between 2009 and 2012, none of the laws focus on preventing the injuries in the first place. The laws on the books deal primarily with increasing coaches’ and parents’ ability to identify and respond to traumatic brain injuries and reducing the immediate risk of multiple brain injuries.
>>Read more in a Q&A with the Babe Ruth League Inc. about how youth sports leagues are making strides to prevent injuries.
Harvey’s conclusion is that continued research and evaluation is needed to develop a more comprehensive reduction in youth sport traumatic brain injuries.
NewPublicHealth: What did your study address?
Hosea Harvey: I looked at traumatic brain injury (TBI) laws that were passed at the state level that purported to deal with the problem of youth TBIs in sports statewide. I looked at every related state law passed between 2009 through the end of 2012, though most states only had one law that they passed that dealt with youth sports TBIs during that period.
NPH: And your study found that no state that right now has a law that says this is what you have to do in order to prevent these concussions in the first place?
A community needs assessment of a Chinese-American community in New York City several years ago found multiple barriers to physical activity for children and teens including parents unable to supervise kids at play because of long work hours, unsafe neighborhoods, limited knowledge or access to existing programs, financial hardship, inadequate support for physical activity in schools, limited time due to competing priorities such as academics, and too much time in front of video games, computer screens and television. To increase exercise time and options and help to reduce obesity rates among Chinese-American youth, public health professionals from the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center sought out funding from the New York State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to create the Chinatown JUMP (Joining Urban Partners for More Physical Activity) program.
>>Read more on New York's Health Improvement Plan, which sets out a plan for similar community health assessments and cross-sectoral collaborations in response to these findings.
Chinatown JUMP currently works with eight afterschool programs to incorporate daily physical activity into the curriculum of these academic programs, blending activity with learning. Program goals include:
- Promote healthier and fit children by educating them and their families about the correlation between exercise and staying healthy.
- Increase staff capacity to support students’ healthier lifestyle through training and technical assistance.
- Establish an afterschool culture that supports physical activity as well as academic achievement.
The program works hard to incorporate parents’ support and involvement as well. Participating students in iMove receive a community resource guide with information about free and low-cost recreational centers and public spaces in the neighborhood to share with their parents. Parents are also invited to workshops on the importance of physical activity and healthy eating habits.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Susan Yee, Associate Director of Programs at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, about Chinatown JUMP.
NewPublicHealth: What is the Chinatown JUMP program and what do you think sets it apart from other programs with similar goals?
Susan Yee: Chinatown JUMP’s goal is to try to improve opportunities for more physical activity in the Manhattan Chinatown area in order to create sustainable changes within the community.