Pets bring Happy, Healthy Lifestyles

An apple a day may or may not actually keep the doctor away, but what about a Pet per day? Now, that’s a fun concept. In fact, when it comes to pet ownership, there are a number of proven health benefits for people, including physical, mental and emotional improvements, from enhancing social skills to decreasing a person’s risk of heart attack.

Did you also know there is an annual Pet Calendar, for example October is known as National Pet Wellness Month, February is Dental Awareness Month and there is also a bring your Dog to Work Week.

How fun is that!

One of the fringe benefits of taking on the responsibility of pet ownership is they can be an instant icebreaker, whether they’re with you or you’ve just introduced them into your topic of conversation. I know for me I took a recent vacation in Hilton Head, which was exciting to see how Pet Friendly the beach has become. There were many Pet Families playing with their Furkids on the Beach.  It was fun to see and of course my Mom went and chatted with all of the families.  It’s also fun to see the number of Pet related classes and more businesses becoming Pet Friendly.

Places to Mix and Mingle with your Pet

  • Training classes: Many instructors offer group classes such as puppy kindergarten, where you’ll find
  • others trying to master the same pet parenting skills.
  • Dog parks: A great opportunity for both you and your dog to play and interact with other dogs and ownersalike. Just be sure your dog is properly socialized and up to date on all shots before introducing it into the mix.
  • Outdoor cafes: Many restaurants with outdoor seating options are also pet-friendly, and some even offer dog-specific items on the menu as well.
  • Online:, and are just a few examples of popular pet-focused social networking sites that provide an instant, fun way to trade tips, trends and more.

Fun Ways to Stay Fit with Fido:

If you’re a dog owner who needs more of a workout than walking can provide, here are a few ideas:

  • Jogging or running
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Doga (i.e. Yoga for Dogs)
  • Agility Training (Obstacle course-based dog sport)

Pets are a great way to beat the blues. Not only are they known to they offer unconditional love, but they may also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial for those feeling down in the dumps. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and even bring you feelings of joy and happiness.

So get out, have fun and reward your furkids, after all they reward us every day with their love and support.

For those Pet Lovers that live in Atlanta!  I hope you can join me next week for this Fun Event!

Toast for Pets

VinoTeca is partnering with Best Friends Animal Society and PetsRFit2 to bring you a fun evening of networking, tasting and fun.

Best Friends Animal Society is the only national animal welfare organization focused on ending the killing of dogs and cats in shelters across the nation by 2025.

PetsRFit2 is a new social engagement platform for pet owners—uncovering unique ways to reward families for the activities they do with their pets.

Where: VinoTeca – 299 North Highland Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30307

Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Time: 6pm – 8pm
$5 Wine Tasting


Building for the Future

As 2016 comes to an end, it gives us time to reflect on accomplishments while also setting goals for the New Year.  According to research from statistic brain only 45% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions and only 8% achieve success.  The top resolution is to lose weight, but who didn’t already know that.

built-environmentFor me I wanted to do something for others so when I got involved with the Atlanta BeltLine project 6 years ago my goal was to create programs to engage the businesses and families in Atlanta with healthy behaviors. The BeltLine is a project that is truly helping build a more active Atlanta.


It is also having a significant impact on the local economy with new business and residential communities popping up.

Today we are seeing similar projects in other communities, creating new trails and parks, as it is a goal toward improving community health while driving economic impact.  As the CDC continues to report we live in a fat nation, our healthcare is going through rapid changes to a value based care model which will rely heavily on improvements to ones community to be successful.  We need easier access to care, safer communities to walk and programs to not only get active with but grow our social network – support.macon

On a recent visit to Macon Georgia I got a chance to meet with Dominique Lewis, Recreation Programmer, with the Macon-Bibb Parks and Recreation Department.  She told
me how they are building for the future with all the great work going on.

Central City Park recently got some much needed funding from SPLOST where they are improving the existing park by adding more walking trails a Skate Park and educational pad.

Home to Macon’s historic Luther Williams Field, the heart of Cherry Blossom Festival events, and the original home of the Georgia State Fair, Central City Park was Macon’s first public park. Still Macon’s largest park, stretching along the levee at the southernmost end of Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, the level terrain makes Central City Park ideal for hosting central-citytournaments, festivals and special events. The beautiful natural setting features playground areas for children, picnic areas large enough to accommodate group outings, and a gazebo for perfect “photo ops.”


Dominique stated, “Our initial focus on development was a result of a culmination of feedback and surveys from the community on what they wanted to see.  We also spoke with other City Parks on the improvements they made.  We noticed our parks were behind the times and we wanted to compete with other parks.  We wanted to update our facilities for our residents where they could come and play.”

“We are going to use metrics to track attendance and facilities frequented,” Dominique stated.  “When we do recreation programs we do community surveys to see if we should continue with those programs as we are focusing more on community engagement.”

I then went on to ask Dominique how she got involved with Parks and Recreation, Dominique stated, “I grew up on a military installation, but I didn’t really look at Parks and Recreation as a profession.  When I was in school I changed my profession to Sociology and started working with Non-Profits.  I kind of fell into Parks and Recreation and I fell in love as I get to work on planning programs for the community and working closely with families.”

reading-rocksI went on to ask Dominique about her favorite activity, Dominique stated, “I love reading rocks, as it’s a program that encourages people to read.  We had the Mayor and Radio Station at past events.  I also love summer camp as we see about 700 kids.”

Dominique went on to say, “Personally I love to dance and I am big into DIY projects.  I have a one and three year older that keep me busy with such projects and I certainly like to practice what I preach.”


Thanks to Dominique for everything she does in creating more engagement for families which ultimately leads to a healthier community.

As we set personal goals for the New Year I feel it’s important for our communities to set goals and to further engage the businesses and families in ones community.  It takes a community approach to partnerships that will truly create a safe active community that will help move the unhealthy needle in our nation.

May you and your family enjoy a successful new year and may your community foster new innovative approaches to engage with you!!

Engaging Communities toward change

america-walksLeveraging and engaging community members are important elements to creating more equitable communities. These programs focus on addressing the determinants of health, engaging multiple sectors and leveraging new partnerships, and ensuring sustainability of efforts through capacity building and empowerment of people directly affected by the issues at hand in their communities.

Through this work, healthy communities hope to change the way people thinkpic-2-mcrae not just about health, but also opportunity, and in turn, advance a culture of well-being across not only ones community but the country.  The recent merger of McRae-Helena is a great example of two communities coming together for change.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Heather Livingston, Health Promotion Champion and Liz McLean, City Manager about their community health and engagement initiatives

The City of McRae-Helena was formed on January 1, 2015 when the two cities of McRae and Helena merged. “It has been 94 years since this type of city-city merger has happened in the State of Georgia, stated Liz McLean, City Manager “Limited wastewater capacity in the former City of Helena was the impetus of the merger, but because of geographical proximity and similar service delivery, an innovative merger made sense.”

It is the largest city in Telfair County, Georgia with an estimated population of 8,745 inpic-5-mini 2015. This includes the approximately 2,000-person inmate population held  at McRae Correctional Institution and the Telfair State Prison. In downtown McRae-Helena there is a small replica of the Statue of Liberty and a marble memorial to Telfair County residents who died in military service. The closest city to McRae-Helena is Macon..

Liz  statepic-3-color-rund “The Color Run is the 1st Annual run. We hope to use this event as a way to engage employees and have the community come together for a fun, healthy day.   One person even came from out of state to run in it as they have some family in-town.  The event was successful with 141 runners and over twenty volunteers. Weeks after the event, the community is still talking about what a great day they had,” said Liz.

Liz went on to say, ” We had a lot of sponsor contributions, including volunteers, prizes, food, and drinks. The proceeds will go back to future events and we are are hoping for tourism impact as there is a lot to see in our city.”

ThePic 4 Mansion.jpg former Talmage Mansion , now Sugar Creek Plantation, is a bed and breakfast and a popular event venue.  The telfair center for the arts where the run took place, use to be a college and a arts organization came in and rehabed it and won an award for their efforts.

“We also have other community events such as a Christmas night out and another 5k put on by a local nonprofit organization.  We are looking to offer more events to engage with our businesses and residents.  In fact we are now looking at a more complete streets perspective as planning is just starting. We have a grad student doing a feasibility study to look at things like our local ballpark, which has not been used in 20 years and to turn it into a municipal park,” Liz stated.

“We are focused on Community Health and engagement as we are looking to do more city and wellness programs, and health activities for employees.  The Color run is free for our employees and we are also putting out a survey to find out what else the community would like to see,” said Liz.

Liz mentioned other initiatives currently ongoing in the community such as health incentives for employees, a open streets activity downtown, and sidewalk renovation to improve walkability in the community. A community member reached out to the city regarding health initiatives and now both public and private organizations are working to bring healthier activities to the community.

Our definition of healthy communities continues to evolve as we learn more about the connection between community development and health. While community development is not a discrete academic discipline or an accredited field like public health, it is more than an activity. It is best viewed as a self-defined sector involving organizations from multiple fields that share a common focus on improving their communities.

Its efforts like McRae-Helena that make a difference and set a precedent for others to follow.  Congrats to the great work, keep it up!!!

Cities in Play

Cities in PlayWe recently had the opportunity to speak at the Annual Georgia Municipal Association’s conference held each year in Savannah, a beautiful destination in coastal Georgia.  The theme of this year’s event was “Cities in Play.” How awesome is that!  In our breakout session, we discussed “Healthy Communities: Keeping your Citizens Active.”

Did you know Georgia ranked 40th according to America’s Health Rankings?   For some of us that can be a surprise, depending on the community you live in.  Do you feel like where you live has a profound impact on your health and fitness lifestyle?

Research shows  that only one out of five adults in America meets aerobic and strength guidelines. 26% of American adults engage in no leisure-time physical activity. Minority populations are disproportionately inactive, including 32% of black females who report no leisure-time physical activity. Low-income communities of color suffer the lowest rates of activity and face the greatest barriers to accessing affordable and safe fitness opportunities.

When traveling around to different cities, it’s plain to see construction occurring for new parks, trails and community centers.  Both young and old desire to live in an active and vibrant community.  For example, Alpharetta, GA hosts a history walk where one can explore 19 historical markers throughout downtown. What a great way to learn about the city while being active!

In Atlanta, there are bicycle tours that roll through historic neighborhoods.  Chattahoochee Hills, located 35 miles southwest of Atlanta, sits on 1,000 acres and has a great trail to run or walk and hosts many health and wellness activities.  Royston, in the Northeast Georgia Mountains, is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream! One of its key attractions is Victoria State Park with 502 acres of rolling hills and eight miles of hiking and various biking trails.

These locations may be considered weekend escapes for many people, but in order for us to stay healthy we need safe trails and activities occurring in and around our communities. Communities should explore making “dead time” such as waiting at bus chattahoocheestops, lengthy waits in doctors’ offices, laundromats, etc. more playful. Cities have many undiscovered assets that can be used to fill communities with play everywhere.

Cities can create mini play destinations “around the corner.” When parks and playgrounds are a bus ride away, they become special-occasion locations. Cities can develop small, modest but right-around-the-corner options with interesting play structures. Communities can also make play more inclusive and appealing to the whole family. Getting the parents and caregivers excited by incorporating things they may want to do like hiking or visiting zoos as accessible ways of exercise.state park

Cities are fiercely competing for residents— not just twenty-year-olds but also families of all income-levels who breathe energy and enterprise into neighborhoods. Everyone wants to live in a safe community with ample job opportunities. In addition, families want great schools and abundant places to play. Creating kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with play is a competitive advantage for cities.

Behavioral insights  show us that psychological distance is not equal to actual distance. This makes going to the park or a playground seem like a major outing rather than activity that is part of a regular routine. Creating closer and smaller, “play destinations” can help. Consider the difference between supermarkets and corner convenience stores. You may stock up on groceries every week or two, but you probably stop by the corner convenience store more often. When it comes to play, the equivalent of the supermarket might be a big playground in the nice part of town.

The bottom line is that making cities family friendly and creating the corner store of play will require many solutions, but we believe that the fight against inactivity hinges on community-based fitness leadership. This leadership comes from compassionate people who care enough about their communities to motivate others to move!

When fitness leaders look around and see sedentary lifestyles and chronic disease, they believe that they can and must make a difference. Fighting the inactivity epidemic will require a multi-sector, multi-pronged attack, one community at a time. There is no silver bullet to solve the inactivity epidemic. But the heart of the fight—the spiritual core— will come from community fitness leaders.


Can Dogs make us more Active?

I know that’s a silly question, of course they can!  They are dependent on us for letting them outside – oh wait we don’t have to go out with them, we can just open the door and let them do their thing.  Not so fast, did you know an estimated 52.6% of US dogs are overweight or obese, according to Pet Obesity Prevention that equates to roughly 43.8 million US dogs as overweight and 13.9 million as obese.  Wow those are alarming stats and one can only imagine the cost associated with treating obese pets along with the health related illnesses.
PetsRFit2Based on these stats it seems like the answer is no because all your dog does is laze on the couch and watch TV with you, but hang on dog ownership can actually provide a variety of health benefits.

Anecdotal and scientific evidence has shown that dog owners tend to be healthier than the average person. Here are a few examples that having a dog might just keep us healthier and happier.

  • This is perhaps no surprise to owners that frequently walk or exercise with their dogs. After all, dogs are more likely to beg for a walk or a game of fetch than other house pets.
  • According to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health, children with dogs spent more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than children without dogs.
  • And this effect extends to adult dog owners. According to a 2006 study done by Canadian researchers at the University of Victoria, dog owners were more likely to participate in mild to moderate physical activity. They walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with non-dog owners, who walked an average of 168 minutes per

Regardless, this still hinges on your willingness to walk the dog in the first place. According to a 2006 study by Johns
Hopkins University researchers, while dog ownership might obligate owners to walk their dogs, only a fraction of owners walked their dogs at least three times a week, and that fraction was especially among elderly dog owners. Therefore, even though dog ownership might promote walking activity and motivate both the dog and the owner to go outside for some fresh air, you’re not going to experience those benefits if you’re too reluctant to walk the dog.

For me I am new to dog ownership as we just got two Dobermans and let me tell you they are a handful but in a good way.  Our oldest Marley is hyper-aware, very active, super smart and she loves laps.  Our youngest, Marshall, is a rescue and has hip dysplasia yet the sweetest thing you’d ever meet.  We love getting outside every day and either running, walking or taking them to the dog park and let me tell you they love it!  And what I really love is when we 20160227_170251come home from all this activity they are passed out on the couch with a smile 🙂

Has it made me more active, well – I’ve already had an active life but with them if I am low on energy or having a bad day they still need to go outside and despite their crazy leash biting and not walking a straight line it is fun!  I’m sure I’ve been the sight of entertainment for many in-town drivers seeing this guy walking two big Dobermans equaling 70 and 85lbs – so yes they have made me more active and stronger because they get stubborn and sometimes you’ve got to pull them.  Now my gait might be getting impacted because of how they gyrate me but it’s all good.

contactus-jumping-woman-dogSo it got me thinking as we have been working hard on community health and engagement initiatives we’ve started to notice more and more pet-friendly events and communities that are more inviting towards pets including pet friendly restaurants.  It seems to be a growing trend and from this it made me further think about the platform that we have built it can easily be a platform for pets and their owners.  So we are piloting the idea of creating a social engagement platform for pet-owners where you would upload a picture of your pet and log their daily activities or the pet friendly events completed.

So if you are a pet-owner create a pet profile on and join me on the PetsRFit2 Community as we start to innovate within this space – after all pets can make us healthier so why not reward them for their accomplishments!  More details coming soon regarding this pilot!

Active Georgia = Community Health

In public health, we know that where you live has a profound effect on your health. But we do not always know what to do about it. Public health doesn’t have the tools to renovate housing, reconfigure streets to make them walkable and bikeable, build parks and community buildings, or build and run grocery stores or schools.

Fortunately, there is a sector that does – community development.  Collaboration between community development and health promises to be a win-win for everyone. Community developers have the know-how to transform neighborhoods, improving what those in public health call the social determinants of health. Meanwhile, innovative community developers have recognized the importance of health ensuring that residents benefit fully from the changes. The integration of health into community development, and the partnerships that are essential to making this happen, are critical. For example, the surgeon general recently delivered a call to action on walkable communities and America Walks issued micro-grants, where over 500 community-based organizations applied for funding.

Many of our cities are taking a keen interest in community health not only with the built environment but programs that connect families and businesses to further engage them within their community. As cities become walkable and host events they become sought after destinations for families and businesses.  There are many projects occurring in Georgia that include new trails, parks and bicycle lanes all designed to engage the community in healthy leisure time options.

ACTIVE_GAActive Georgia is an innovative approach to highlighting all this amazing work and inspire community health.   After all, walkable communities are attractive places for businesses to locate, which clearly correlate with healthy and thriving economies.

In the first two years of Active Georgia, Roswell and Dallas were neck and neck for the title of the most active city. This year we have a new winner – Sugar Hill.


Sugar Hill is a very active community located in Northern Gwinnett County minutes away from Lake Lanier and nedwas named after an incident where a large shipment of sugar spilled and the area became known as “the hill where the sugar spilled” or “the sugar hill”.  Sugar Hill is host to a lot of 5ks and they are currently building a new fitness center for City employees and their families.  The city hosts a number of community fitness camps where there is a good chance the Mayor, members of city council or the downtown development authority will be seen participating.  Their Economic Development Director Scott Andrews, who is a fitness trainer and this year’s individual winner, has a number of weight loss success stories within the community.  Nic Greene served as the President of the Sugar Hill Business Alliance this past year and Ned Jasarevic, shown in the picture with his two dogs, is the Information Technology Specialist for the city.  “The success of these gentlemen is the real story. Ned has lost nearly 100 lbs since starting his lifestyle change. Nic is down over 25lbs in just a few short months.  I am proud of their accomplishments and the obstacles they have overcome. The Fitness Boot Camps and their success have led them to becoming my gym workout partners, as well great friends,” Andrews stated.

Paul Radford, the City Manager shared more highlights about the city, stating “The credit for our success lies in the unselfish and creative leadership of our city council and their passion for the Sugar Hill brand, their laser focus on our vision and their clear and unambiguous commitment to engagement and partnerships.  Our focus is creating a walkable downtown with connecting neighborhoods.  We are also planning a unique trail that will connect our downtown (a new urban park) with our recreation parks, greenspace and golf course, creating a 16-mile multi-use sugarhilltrail around the city called the Sugar Loop Greenway.”   Our downtown amphitheater, the Bowl at Sugar Hill, was recently named “Best in Gwinnett” as an outdoor concert venue by Gwinnett Magazine.  We also have close to $250 million in new construction soon to start in our downtown including the city’s new EpiCenter that will be the home to a new performing arts theater, city recreation center as well as 43,000 sf of office, retail, and restaurant space.  Other private sector developments will also include commercial space, structured parking and most importantly, downtown housing.  We are excited about the future of Sugar Hill and feel blessed to have so many different private sector partners helping make our city a special place for residents, businesses and guests alike.”

Roswell is certainly one of the more active cities in the state as they are known as a cycling community home to the ever popular GA 400 Bike Ride to the Capitol where they close down a portion of GA 400.  As a cyclist, I had theroswell honor of riding in this event and it was way too cool riding down a multi-lane highway considering the amount of  drivers that road normally accommodates on any given day.  The City of Roswell recently started a Health and Wellness program for City employees where they offer free classes and bring in nutritionists and fitness instructors whom are also part-time City employees.  They have a strong Health and Wellness program for their seniors and the general public as well.  The city has a number of innovative public schools within their district and a very athletic group of gymnasts who successfully compete in nationals every year.

As we have seen from the success of these two cities, parks provide intrinsic environmental, aesthetic, and recreation benefits. They are also a source of positive economic benefits. They enhance property values, increase municipal revenue, bring in homebuyers and workers, and attract retirees.

At the bottom line, parks are a good financial investment for any community:

  • Parks channel positive community participation by getting diverse people to work together toward a shared vision.
  • Parks provide places for people to connect and interact in a shared environment.
  • Parks are one of the quickest and most effective ways to build a sense of community and improve quality of life.

Congratulations to Sugar Hill and Roswell for their innovative approaches to engaging their City employees and by getting involved with Active Georgia.   These are important steps in engaging their respective communities and we look forward to continuing to inspire and grow more community engagement.


Please join me in support of this initiative as we take a unique approach by combining the built environment and health programs with technology to inspire community health.   For more information on how your city can become involved in Active Georgia please contact Dan Popovic at


A Call to Action

I was recently in DC presenting at the America Walks Summit where the Surgeon General was a keynote speaker addressing his recent Call to Action on Walkable Communities.  As I was listening to his presentation I couldn’t help but think what a call to action meant.  Many folks know of it as CTA’s within the Internet of things, it’s literally a call to create some sort of action or response.  America WALKS

In this essence it was a way to tell Cities that you need to take a more proactive approach in creating safe, active walkable communities.

 Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities recognizes the importance of physical activity for people of all ages and abilities. It calls on Americans to be more physically active through walking and calls on the nation to better support walking and walkability. Improving walkability means that communities are created or enhanced to make it safe and easy to walk and that pedestrian activity is encouraged for all people. The purpose of the Call to Action is to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll and by creating a culture that supports these activities for people of all ages and abilities.

In support of this call to action, America Walks issued Micro Grants where over 500 organizations responded with their efforts on community health and engagement.  As we visit with many Cities and Non-Profits we see a growing trend with community health and engagement as these organization see several benefits such as economic development.  Who doesn’t like to take a nice walk with a friend or loved one and stop in a local store for coffee a glass of wine or some groceries. It’s tremendous and inspiring to see what is going on within various Cities and Non-Profits, for example:

  • healthy tennesseeIn Tennessee – Healthier Tennessee is an effort led by Governor Bill Haslam and made possible by The Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, a non-profit corporation dedicated to enabling and encouraging Tennesseans to lead healthier lives.

team of mules

  • In Maury County Tennessee they launched a Community Challenge to lose the weight equivalent of a team of mules (8,000 lbs.).


  • Eat SmartIn North and South Carolina there is an initiative called Eat Smart Move More which is a statewide movement that promotes increased opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity wherever people live, learn, earn, play and pray.


  • In Oklahoma there is a significant community health initiative but they have also been successful with their built environment initiatives – The Oklahoma City Trails are a network of paved walking, running, bicycling and skating paths that will eventually stretch all across Oklahoma City and many of its suburbs.Indianapolis
  • In Indianapolis it is one of the top 10 places to walk run and bike and they are home to the largest half-marathon in the US with several trails that connect unique cultural enclaves, restaurants and attractions. There downtown path also has a barrier that separates bikes from motorists.




These are exciting developments and I can’t wait to see more in 2016! As we approach the end of the year it’s typically a time to reflect on accomplishments and set new goals. For me, I am hopeful to further spread the word on what Cities are doing to engage their communities, meet someone new each week to share their accomplishments and further my passion that I have been working on for nearly 4 years – which is to bridge the gap between technology and the built environment to engage communities, reward healthy behaviors and create social connections.

It’s a challenging endeavor when you bootstrap such an operation and try to employ social media, gamification and the concept of community – but we are seeing the idea gain traction, in fact this recent article talking about 2016 was inspiring to see the word community and social media used – after all social media is great but aren’t we looking for more community connections…

So what is your call to action in the New Year?  As an organization is it to put on more events in your community, to host a Mayoral Walk, develop a new trail or as an individual is it to loss weight, run your first 5k, half marathon or marathon.. Is it to run a race in multiple cities or just get out within your community and get engaged? Drop me a note as I’d love to hear from you as we share accomplishments and inspire others.

I wanted to wish you all a Happy New Year – see you all in 2016!