We 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 stops, 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.
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.