Due to COVID-19, pilot communities adapted their campaigns to help people stay safe while getting active. This series highlights local events and initiatives from the community pilot program — including creative ways to promote physical activity during social distancing.
This installment highlights successful campaign strategies that Fairfax County, Virginia used to promote physical activity during the pandemic.
Pilot community at a glance: Fairfax County, Virginia
Community type: Urban
Population estimate: 1,147,532 people
Lead agency: Fairfax County Park Authority
Lead agency mission: To enrich quality of life for all members of the community through an enduring park system that provides a healthy environment, preserves natural and cultural heritage, offers inspiring recreational experiences, and promotes healthy lifestyles
Lead agency website: fairfaxcounty.gov/parks
Striding Toward an Active Future
As part of their Move Your Way community campaign, Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) planned to get Fairfax County, Virginia residents moving with weekly in-person walking groups.
But when COVID-19 derailed these plans, FCPA transitioned to online programming. They started offering online versions of their popular Healthy Strides community fitness classes through a videoconferencing platform — allowing people to try activities from yoga to cardio to tai chi, all from the safety of their homes.
Liz Ittner, wellness coordinator at FCPA, says the virtual classes were a big success. FCPA recorded about 3,900 class attendees during the campaign, and averaged about 30 people per class.
Some virtual attendees were veterans of FCPA’s in-person fitness classes, but Ittner says she was pleased to see at least a couple new participants in each virtual class. “That tells me we’re reaching a handful of people every day who maybe weren’t considering coming to our sites before,” she says. “In pandemic life, I’d say that’s pretty good!”
Keeping Move Your Way Front and Center
As the pandemic wore on, FCPA’s Healthy Strides instructors found creative ways to incorporate Move Your Way into the class experience. Instructors who streamed classes from local rec centers displayed a Move Your Way banner in the background, while those who streamed from home wore Move Your Way branded t-shirts.
Instructors also began each class session by talking about Move Your Way. Ittner says that while they used a standard campaign message at first, many instructors eventually branched out and took a more personal approach to campaign messaging. For example, one instructor offered a “tip of the day” to share creative ways to reach the recommended 150 minutes of activity a week — like using household items as weights.
“It’s been cool to hear that evolution with the instructors — their own spin that they’re putting on the Move Your Way information,” she says.
Promoting Safe Walking Programs
In addition to virtual classes, FCPA has found other innovative ways to reach Fairfax residents from afar. As the new school year began, they partnered with Fairfax County Public Schools’ Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program on Walking Wednesdays. This program encourages kids and parents to walk around the block before the school day starts — even when kids are learning remotely.
Ittner says that since FCPA had to cancel their plans for organized community walks, this partnership was the next best thing. She explains that Walking Wednesdays help kids and families fit a bit more activity into their busy days — which aligns perfectly with the goals of Move Your Way.
In spring 2021, FCPA is planning to place signs with Move Your Way messaging on popular park trails and playgrounds throughout the community. The signs will share key information about the health benefits and recommended amounts of physical activity for adults and kids. This way, FCPA can continue to reach community members wherever they go to get active.
Staying Nimble in the Face of Uncertainty
For FCPA, a key takeaway from running a physical activity campaign during COVID-19 has been the importance of flexibility. Ittner points out that circumstances — from local pandemic restrictions to staff capacity — can change at the drop of a hat. So her advice for other community organizations is to learn to adapt on the fly.
“Try not to get your heart set on one pathway,” she says. “Navigating this ever-changing world of technology and virtual platforms, you have to be willing to change your game plan on a dime to fit your circumstances and the audiences you’re trying to reach.”