Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fire up your feet

Photo courtesy of Fire Up Your Feet
Parents and teachers looking for ways to promote physical activity at their school can check out this program from the Safe Routes to School Partnership, Fire Up Your Feet. The program website offers a variety of resources, including videos, printable handouts, webinars, and activity ideas to encourage students (and their families) to walk and bike more. There's also a fundraising component to the site that provides online tools to help schools set up walkathons and fun runs to raise money--a much healthier choice than the cookie sales I remember from my childhood.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Want to Avoid Dementia in Later Life? Take a Walk.

A longitudinal study of older adults (average age 78) released this month in the journal Neurology shows that walking at least 72 blocks a week, or six to nine miles, leads to greater volumes of grey matter--and less memory loss--over time. About 40 percent of study participants developed some form of dementia over the course of the study, but those who had more grey matter because of walking reduced their risk of cognitive impairment by two-fold.

So at least now we have some evidence that creating pedestrian-friendly environments is important for public health.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Will a Walkable Neighborhood Make Me Skinny?

Well, it's hard to say...but it will definitely make me skinny. That's because I live in a walkable neighborhood and I value walking. It's that last part that is the key to low Body Mass Index (BMI), according to this recently published study from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Living in a walkable community isn't enough. You also have to want to walk.

First, some background. It's clearly established that there is a relationship between walkable communities and walking. A pedestrian-friendly neighborhood has more pedestrians, plain and simple. What's less clear is why exactly this is so. Is there more walking in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods because people who already like to walk a lot move into them? Or does walkable community design cause erstwhile couch potatoes to get up and move? A growing body of evidence suggests it's the former of these two possibilites that explain the high walking rates in pedestrian-friendly communities, and this study adds to that evidence.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Street Summit 2010

In true--ironic--LA fashion, I drove for 2.5 hours yesterday to learn more about how I could spend less time in my car. Yes, yesterday was the 2010 Los Angeles Street Summit, and I wanted to share some info about what I learned in the afternoon's workshops.


MoProject is a multi-media contest that allows young people in California to enter their videos, posters, or spoken-word pieces about the health issues they deal with every day. Last year the contest focused on challenges to health in California, such as dangerous sidewalks. This year's asks California teens, how do you "own your health"? Sponsored by CANFIT, MoProject provides a venue for young people to become active participants in their community's health and development.

Greenfield Walking Group

Recently recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its success in promoting community health, the Greenfield Walking Group started in 2006 with a few moms who simply wanted to get some exercise by walking in their local Bakersfield park. Unfortunately, they were thwarted by nasty dogs and even nastier trash, not to mention a language barrier. Enter the walkability assessment. Working with California Walks, the ladies were able to assess the walking conditions in their park and identify key problems. Once armed with actual data, they were able to communicate effectively with city leaders about the lack of walkability in their park and develop real solutions for the area (lights, playground equipment, a jogging trail). Now 150 strong, the group has begun to branch out to other communities, teaching them how to advocate for improvements within their neighborhoods.

Trainings and Resources

Those of you who are interested in transforming your community the way that Greenfield ladies did can get some free help from folks at state and federal level. In California, the Office of Traffic Safety in partnership with UC Berkeley provides four-hour Community Pedestrian Safety Trainings in numerous cities throughout the state each year, as well as Pedestrian Safety Assessments for California communities.

The Federal Highway Administration also offers several programs related to walkability and pedestrian safety, including free technical assistance and bi-monthly webinars. The FHWA also recently revised its handbook on creating a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Factors in Childhood Obesity

I sometimes hear fitness buffs explain that losing weight is simple: eat less, exercise more. This might work nicely as a mantra to chant in your head while running up hills, but the reality is that obesity is a pretty complex phenomenon, particularly when it comes to children. As reported in this recent article from the LA times, race, family structure, household income, and several other factors are all linked to childhood obesity rates according to a newly-published study using data from the National Survey of Childhood Health.

I was especially interested in relationship between childhood obesity and outside activities, which is striking. Children who do not participate in activities outside of school are 40 percent more likely to be obese than children who do, and children who live in neighborhoods without a park or recreaction center are about 20 percen more likely to be overweight.

It seems to me that one of the barriers to getting children to do more outside of school (aside from cost, of course) is that it's hard to get them to those outside activities. What if a kids could walk themselves to soccer practice after school, instead of relying on a parent to drive them? Or walk to a park to play? I believe that an important part of addressing childhood obesity should be restructuring the built environment to make active transportation easy for everyone--especially kids.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Enjoy the Walk

Michelle Obama isn't the only one with a campaign to encourage physical activity.

Tipped off by a story last week in the Ventura County Star, I learned about an ambitious walker named George Throop who is traveling from Vancouver, Washington to Washington, D.C. on foot in the hopes that his example will inspire others to "Walk 20 Minutes Today." Guessing that anyone who had already walked through three states would have something to say about walkability, I caught up with George and his current walking buddy (Colin Leath from Santa Barbara) over the weekend.

First, the obvious question: why walking? George explained that he chose walking because it was something that pretty much anyone can do; it doesn't take expensive equipment or special training to walk. He also wanted to keep his message direct. Instead telling people to do something vague like "exercise more," George decided to focus on one simple lifestyle change: walk 20 minutes a day for better health.

Then there's the community-building aspect of walking. People who walk in their neighborhoods every day get to know their community and their neighbors. Their eyes are out on the street instead of inside houses or cars, leading to safer communities. Plus, placing an emphasis on walking helps to generate demand for pedestrian infrastructure and the political will that it takes to push for pedestrian-friendly communities.

George is realistic about what walking can accomplish in terms of people's health. He acknowledges that walking 20 minutes a day won't prevent all health problems, but he believes it can increase awareness about preventative health. He hopes that walking 20 minutes each day will create some momentum in people's lives, moving them towards a healthier lifesytle overall.

So how is it out there? George says that walking conditions have been mostly good so far. Many neighborhoods have sidewalks, particularly in middle class areas (though they often lack curb ramps). However, in poorer neighborhoods the sidewalks are often run down--or nonexistent. Interestingly, sidewalks are also missing from many of the the wealthier communities George has traveled through ("maybe they're inside the gates?").

Some of the most challenging walks have been along rural roads, such as Box Canyon Road in Simi Valley, which aren't built to allow pedestrian access. Highway 1 along the California coast, with its many blind curves, was also a dangerous stretch--although George points out that the good thing about walking is that you can generally hear cars coming early enough to get out of their way. However, George explains that freeways have been the biggest barrier to walkability he has encoutered. He's often confronted by freeways without a pedestrian crossings, forcing him to take long and time-consuming detours.

With his neon yellow safety vest and bright signs advertising his trip, distracted driving hasn't been much of a problem for George yet. On the contrary, he is often the distraction. George explains that drivers regularly veer towards him while trying read his signs, quickly correcting themselves when they realize what they're doing.

Not surprisingly, both George and Colin agree that walking across the country is different that traveling by other modes. George explained that the more you slow down, the greater the experience--which is partly why he has moved the finish date of his trip from June to November. Colin, who has already completed a cross-country bike trip, finds walking more social than other modes. He notices that people are more likely to stop you with questions--or even join the walk for a block or two--when you travel at "human speed."

This week you can find George and Colin walking through Los Angeles along Wilshire Boulevard. After they cross they city, they'll cut north to Glendale and follow Interstate 10 east to Phoenix, El Paso, and eventually the White House. George is hoping he'll be able to convince President Obama (and maybe the rest of the first family) to finish the last 20 minutes of the walk with him.

You can learn more about George and his walk on his website:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fighting Childhood Obesity

Thanks to my friend Jessica for sending me the scoop on a newly published study in Preventative Medicine that investigated the link between traffic around the home and childhood obesity. The study tracked about 3,000 children from various communities in Southern California from age 9-10 to 18 to see how the built environment surrounding their homes affected their health.

The study shows a statistically significant correlation between the level of traffic within 150 meters of a child's home and their body mass index (BMI). Children living in areas with higher traffic density showed about a five percent increase in BMI.

The study authors suggest there could be a couple reasons for the correlation. Part of the problem could be that the high traffic levels instill a sense of fear in parents, who are then less likely to allow their children participate in "active" transportation (walking or biking) or outdoor play. Lung function could also play a role, as children exposed to air pollution from nearby traffic are more likely to have asthma, which may inhibit their ability to exercise.

Hopefully the first lady will keep this all in mind as she moves forward with her campaign (summarized here) against childhood obesity. Physical activity is a key component of the campaign, but without better community design it's going to be a hard task to get children to move more...