Shaking Inactivity

Everywhere you look there are symptoms of sedentary living and unhealthy choices that negatively affect communities–both physically and fiscally. Park and recreation departments can play a major role in offsetting this epidemic. Our business revolves around motivating people to be active and presenting a smorgasbord of healthy choices so they stay active.

“Fitness is a way of life; it’s not confined to what a child does on the soccer field or an adult does in the gym,” says Virginia’s Arlington County Chair Walter J. Tejada. “Fitness comes from consistently making healthy choices–being active, eating well, getting proper sleep, [and] choosing activities that involve flexibility, coordination, endurance and strength.”

The reasons for inactivity are more complex than residents merely not having enough time to exercise or not knowing the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy choice. To really effect change, communities need to develop a culture in which being healthy and fit is a way of life for people of all ages and abilities.

Changing community culture sounds difficult. “But not impossible,” adds Tejada. “Imagine a community in which being healthy and fit is good business; workplaces make time during the workday for employees to go for a jog or play a pick-up game of basketball, and recognize employees and their families for getting and staying healthy. And communities where children, their families and neighbors take time to play, walk, or bike together through the parks and on fields. Imagine a community of caring that ensures elders, persons with physical and developmental disabilities and youth have plentiful opportunities to engage in healthy and fun exercise. That’s the culture change we’re aiming for.”

Arlington County is in its second year of a mission to develop a culture of fitness, basing its approach on feedback from community dialogue. Successful strategies must approach the problem from various angles:

Programs

Partnerships

Community design

Community policy

The following are some tips to get your community moving in the right direction toward fitness:

Maximize existing opportunities to promote physical activity. Most communities have a plethora of options for residents to be active, including fitness centers, trails, clubs and classes. Yet, in most cases, these opportunities compete. Instead, the model should be changed to teaming resources. No one entity can do it all for everyone. Various fitness options, audiences and approaches in the community should be delineated and then marketed to steer people to the right fit. Fitness is not a one-size-fits-all program.

“View fitness activities as a rainbow … with thousands of colors or ways for people of varying abilities and interests to get fit,” says Dinesh Tiwari, Arlington’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. “Arlington has state-of-the-art sports facilities, turf and grass fields, paved and unpaved trails, playgrounds, a skate park, spray parks, an outdoor climbing wall and real rocks to climb. The trick is to have such a wonderful mix of activities that there is something for everyone because just as there are many colors in the rainbow, there are many ways to get active, and no one way is better than the other.”

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