Be Active Your Way Blog
Jim Kauffman is the National Director for Health and Well-being for YMCA of the USA, the national service organization to 2600 YMCAs across the country. Jim has been with the YMCA organization for 28 years, and is currently responsible for developing tools, resources and best practices for YMCA staff to use to impact the health and well-being of 25 million YMCA participants by 2012. Jim pursues a healthy lifestyle with interests in skiing, volunteering, reading, cooking and foreign travel.
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As a nation, we know that our own choices and behaviors - including physical inactivity - have contributed to rising rates of chronic disease and obesity. It seems easy enough to encourage individuals and families to engage in more physical activity. But the reality is that in many communities across the nation, making healthy choices such as getting active is not only difficult; sometimes it's not even option.
"It's not that hard," we might say. "Just go out and take a walk around your neighborhood." But what if that neighborhood doesn't have sidewalks, and is cut off from other parts of the community? What if residents in that neighborhood feel unsafe when walking around because of poor lighting or other issues? What if children can't play because of lack of space?
Confronting our nation's health crisis requires that we support individuals and communtiies in making better choices, and that we work together to address the underlying conditions and other factors - stress, poverty, social isolation, and neighborhood safety - that contribute to declining health and well-being. This is especially important for those living in communities with limited access to the tools and resources needed to attain and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
We need to make the healthy choice the easy choice by ensuring that our communities have adequate opportunities for children, families and adults to engage in healthy behaviors in all of the places where they live, work, learn, and play.
The Y, along with many other national and local organizations, is part of a growing "healthier communities" movement around the nation, bringing together community leaders and advocates to transform environments and to ensure that healthy opportunities are available to all - no matter where they live.
These collaborative efforts are making getting fit by active transportation easier by creating streets that are safe for all users whether they walk, bike or drive. They are making it easier for kids to walk to school by providing walking school buses and designated walk-to-school days. They are building or repairing parks or playgrounds, thereby providing opportunities for kids and families to play together. They are connecting communtiies by building walking and bike paths. They are ensuring that town and city plans address community design to ensure they support physical activity - and so much more.
A healthier community is a stronger community, leading not only to improved chronic disease and obesity rates, but often an improved economy. Imagine a neighborhood where businesses that struggled suddenly thrive after new street lighting makes it possible to shop at night. Imagine children playing in a new park. Imagine a new bustling town businesses district that is connected to residential neighborhoods through pedestrian and bike trails.
The possibilities are limitless, but it will take all parts of a community working together to achieve the goal of healthy communities where opportunities for physical activity benefit everyone.
What kind of barriers to physical activity might communities face? What are some things that communities can do together to overcome those barriers? Who might need to work together to help support physical activity in these communities? What ares ome of the benefits, outside of improved physical health, that healthier communities can lead to?
Tags: physical activity, healthy communities, playing outside
Barriers | Building Healthy Communities | Environmental Interventions | Playing Outside
How might an average Boomer summarize his attitude towards starting a new physical activity program? I doubt you'd hear, "No pain, no gain," but probably something more like, "My mind says GO, but my body says NO." Much has been written about Boomers' need for physical activity, but what can we - as health, wellness, and fitness professionals - do to make sure this age group actually meets the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendations?
In the Y, we've created a program called PressPlay, which is targeted specifically for Boomers and is based on the principles of 1) Autonomy, 2) Competence, 3) Relatedness, and 4) Connectedness. By incorporating these principles, we have found that Boomers have been able to work their way up to meeting the recommended levels of physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity each week) while having fun in a safe, supportive environment. And the beauty of PressPlay is that it isn't specific to just a certain sport or activity. Here's what it is all about.
Autonomy: PressPlay reinforces to participants that they are in control of their lives and that the choices they make about their health are indeed their own. Participants are challenged, but not pushed, to make healthy choices about their physical activity levels, and over time, they feel empowered to make these healthy choices. "I am capable of making good choices about my health, physical activity, and well-being."
Competence: PressPlay focuses on developmentally appropriate skill instruction and practice so that participants are indeed competent at some aspect of their chosen activity. In some cases, participants learn sport- or exercise-specific skills, and in other instances they learn how to use technology to enhance their physical activity experiences. "I'm good at this."
Relatedness: PressPlay is facilitated to create strong feelings of affinity among the Boomers participating. When surrounded by other Boomers who share similar life experiences and are also entering the same stage in life (Empty Nest, or Retirement, etc.), PressPlay participants find new friends and want to be around the group of like people. "People around me are like me."
Connectedness: PressPlay facilitators and instructors spend time during every class connecting participants with each other and creating bonds of friendships. The relationships that are formed become a motivator for regular participation in the selected activity. "I like the people in the class, and they like me."
When people are in control of their decisions and actually see that they are getting good at something, and feel connected or bonded to people like them, their participation in the activity that brought them all together becomes a joyful habit. Instead of a workout, their physical activity becomes fun, playful, and joyous. And over time, they can meet the Physical Activity Guidelines recommendations for overall health and wellness.
PressPlay isn't for everyone, but in the Y, we've found that applying these principles when working with Boomers in particular, leads to regular and long-lasting participation in our classes.
What principles are guiding your physical activity programs for Boomers so they meet the Physical Activity Guidelines?
How might you incorporate autonomy, competence, relatedness or connectedness into your Boomer programs?
Tags: physical activity, older adults, baby boomers, marketing
Marketing Physical Activity | Older adults
There are many reasons why individuals might not meet the Physical Activity Guidelines, but one major factor is the physical environment that surrounds them. When people don't have the option to make the healthy choice regarding their participation in physical activities, there is no possible way they can do it.
Over the past several decades, our society has engineered physical activity out of our lifestyles. For example, 13% of children five to fourteen years old usually walked or biked to school in 2009, compared with 48% of students in 1969. For a long time, neighborhoods were being built without regard for pedestrians, putting the needs of the driver first. Safe biking lanes, walking paths that connected places where people wanted to go, and a variety of safe outdoor play spaces were all but engineered out of most built environments. Schools were being put in a position where they had to eliminate physical education, whether for budget reasons or to meet academic goals. Offices were built without bike racks, employee changing areas, or easy to use staircases, further enhancing less physical activity instead of more.
Fortunately, things are starting to change. A healthier communities movement is building across the nation. The Y, along with other national organizations, is leading the way. Since 2004, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other corporate and foundation donors, the Y has engaged leaders in 200 communities in working together to implement strategies that provide opportunities for physical activity.
YMCAs engaged in our Healthier Communities Initiative (pioneering Healthier Communities, Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities and ACHIEVE) are helping families by giving parents peace of mind when they let their kids walk to school. The initiative is focused on creating safer routes, making streets safe for all users whether they are on foot or on wheels. The organizations strive to keep a generation of kids healthier by working with schools to increase physical education and physical activity during the school day, and making recess periods more active. The initiative also encourages employers to build environments that support activity among their employees. These examples are just the beginning.
How healthy is your community? What are examples of your community's efforts to change the built environment so more people engage in physical activity to meet the PA guidelines? How are you helping people see that their own built environment supports or inhibits meeting these guidelines? What barriers are there, and how can you work with other leaders in your community to collaboratively remove those barriers?
Tags: physical activity, environment, community
Barriers | Building Healthy Communities | Physical Activity and Employers | Playing Outside | Social Determinants
This page last updated on: 11/04/2009
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Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.