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YMCA of the USA
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About Me:

Jim Kauffman, YMCA BloggerJim 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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Recent Posts by YMCA

Policies That Promote Physical Activity Help Healthy Behaviors Stick

by YMCA November 7, 2012

There are many great programs that help people engage in physical activity for a period of time - everything from group exercise classes to walking clubs. But in order to ensure that ALL people are able to reach the recommendations for physical activity as outlined in the national Physical Activity Guidelines, these programs need to be supported by policies that ensure that physical activity is within reach to people in their everyday lives so that they might stick with the behavior they are trying to achieve.

Policies can range from community-wide strategies such as "complete streets" initiatives, that make streets safe for everyone - whether they are on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike or in a car - to worksite policies that open access to and ensure the safety of stairwells so that people can climb the stairs rather than take the elevator.

Communities across the country are part of this movement that is focusing on how policy and environmental change strategies affect health. The Y's Healthier Communities Initiatives are part of that movement, convening leadership teams in more than 200 communities to engage in strategies that promote healthy living. To date, participating communities have made more than 10,000 changes that promote physical activity.

For example, in Marshalltown, Iowa, changes included the allocation of $50,000 in the city budget for sidewalk maintenance (annually) and a $1.5 billion bike trail extension project linking two present trails to make one continous trail for community members to use throughout the community. In Brattleboro, Vermont the town plan included, for the first time, language related to community design in support of walking and cycling for routine physical activity. In Port Huron, Michigan the team convened by the Y was successful in working to increase the amount of physical activity time offered throughout the school day - doubling the required amount of physical education times in elementary schools from 1 to 2 hours per week, beginning in the fall of 2012. Wilton, Connecticut designated an area near a high school track to be used as an outdoor fitness center for use by the public.

Other examples include improving and building sidewalks; addressing safety concerns such as traffic, lighting, and police enforcement; influencing zoning guidelines to encourage physical activity; adding or expanding recess in local schools; creating or enhancing Safe Routes to Schools programs; and offering workplace incentives to engage in physical activity.

As we encourage individuals to engage in physical activity, we must remember that they often need support to make it happen. Making the healthy choice the easy choice will ensure that those healthy behaviors stay with them for a liftime.

What policies have you seen in your own community that encourage physical activity? Tell us a story about someone who has been impacted by these policies.

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Building Healthy Communities | Policy

Play and Physical Activity

by YMCA August 8, 2012

Some adults think kids have it easy.  It’s easier  and generally acceptable for kids to be outside playing, whether it be shooting hoops, playing ball,  riding a bike, throwing a Frisbee, making up games, or just messing around.  For most kids, getting outside to play is fun, easy, inexpensive, and something they can do every day with their friends. All that unstructured playing adds up, and it is the only way some kids come close to meeting the weekly dosage of physical activity according to the published guidelines.  Although not all kids have access to safe outdoor play spaces, or enjoy these activities, many do, and kids certainly outnumber adults.  Have adults lost their interest in play?  Is there a creative way to get adults out to play in the same activities they did as kids?  Can we help sedentary adults inch closer to the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) through these traditional activities?


YMCA of the USA threw this challenge out to a select group of Ys.  What can you do to get kids, and their parents, outdoors, to play every day?  This group of Ys did some experimenting with various activities.  Although the activities were facilitated by the Y, the activities were co-designed with the actual target audience, and organized every week by Y staff and the participants themselves.  Once a week during the summer months, kids and their parents came together to play.  Bike riding, games around a campfire, nature hikes, soccer or kickball – all helped these children, teens, parents, grandparents, and other caregivers increase the number of minutes of physical activity to get closer to, or surpass the reccomendations from the PAG.


Can’t forget to mention the important family bonding that occurred through these activities.  While the Ys goal was indeed to increase the physical activity levels of everyone involved through play, we helped create the motivation by building connections and friendships between the families, especially child to child and parent to parent.  We created a welcoming atmosphere where fun and sweat were valued over skill or winning so that everyone felt they could participate.

For eight weeks last summer, and five weeks (and counting) this summer, Ys have been stirring the interests of kids and their families to come up with fun and enjoyable (but not necessarily new) ideas to get active, and play.  And it has worked.  In community parks, local swimming pools, school ball fields, and city sidewalks, families are coming together with other families, to enjoy outdoor activities of their choosing, all with the goal of getting more physical activity. 


We don’t have a name for any of these programs.  Overall we call it Play Every Day Outdoors.  All it took was organizational commitment to the PAG, a willingness to engage local families, and an open mind to try a variety of activities. 


The adults told us about how much fun they were having, especially playing with their kids.  Maybe kids don’t really have it easier to just go out and play.  We just think they do.


What activities, old or new, do you think you can use to get more folks active and achieving the P.A. recommendations?  What kind of play would you enjoy with your family, every day, outdoors? 

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Creative programming

Healthy Choices Require Healthy Options

by YMCA July 5, 2012

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?

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