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woman running and using a fitness tracker

Virtual Run, Walk and Roll Events, A Great Way to Stay Active and Connected!

The year 2020 has been a challenge for all of us. Schools, colleges, universities and businesses went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Commercial health clubs, corporate wellness programs, community-based fitness programs and medical fitness centers have closed their doors in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But those dedicated to fitness have found ways to stay healthy and continue their exercise programs. Now that the winter holidays are upon us, let’s be creative to stay active together! Challenging your friends and family to participate in virtual fitness events is a great way to stay in shape and encourage some healthy competitive spirit!

Bill Thorn holds 2020 Peachtree Road Race shirtEvery year since 1970, a small gathering of 60,000+ runners (the + is because registration is limited but there always were runners without numbers) would gather in Atlanta on July 4th for a 10K run and wheelchair race called the Peachtree Road Race. There is no hotter or more humid place on the planet Earth than Atlanta on Independence Day, but we gathered there anyway all bunched up together and ready to do our best (or just run for the fun of it). We would run, walk and roll shoulder-to-shoulder, hot, sweaty and most of us breathing very heavily. Exactly the right environment for the viral spread of the coronavirus! This year the Atlanta Track Club, in their wisdom (and probably because they wanted to give away all those 2020 race T-shirts), created a completely virtual event allowing for participation from around the world.

Peachtree Road Race cancelled? NEVER! Just different this year.

How do virtual races or fitness events work? If you are in an organized virtual race or event, you pay an entry fee, use an app or fitness tracker to clock your distance and time and submit your results to the organizers. Easy as that!  Most of the time the entry fee often includes a finisher’s t-shirt, a race number and “other swag.” Many of these events also benefit local or national charities.

We understand that paying for a virtual race may not be in your budget or your immediate interest. How about a virtual race with family and friends? These are not difficult to organize and are lots of fun. Using the iPhone feature “Facetime” during the run is a fun way to stay connected and get the whole family involved. If you are like our families, we are all over the place including multiple states and hundreds of miles apart. Staying connected and providing support really helps. We also have a wide range of ages and levels of fitness so for more competitive of us, a full out 10K (or similar distance) is fun or for the less fit and younger kids a walk of a designated distance might work. In case a time and place cannot be arranged, but you are still competitive, any of the fitness trackers will work. Keep up with your time (or distance or whatever you agree on to be measured) and compare later. The family member with the best time wins (or at least has family bragging rights until the next competition).

Want a little assistance with virtual fitness events? Check out the following resources:

This holiday season make time for family, friends, and fitness even if it’s just playing outside, walking the dog together, or a virtual fitness event. For those of you participating in the virtual Peachtree Road Race or any other virtual fitness event, good luck out there!

Authors: Walter Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, and Jammie Hopkins, DrPH

woman walking black and white dog in fall leaves

Holiday Stress Buster | Physically Distanced Physical Activity

Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the holiday season? You are not alone. This winter will layer pandemic anxiety on top of holiday tension and cold weather challenges, all of which can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes. Unchecked stress can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease as well as increased anxiety and depression. In fact, in the 2020 Fitness Index, 30% of residents in the largest 100 U.S. cities have high blood pressure and 38% reported poor mental health. Adding seasonal stress to that mix is not a winning recipe.

A key (and free) way to reduce stress and anxiety is to be physically active. Research tells us even small amounts of activity can help reduce stress, enhance your mood, improve sleep and even strengthen your immune system – something we can all use during this pandemic. Even a 30-minute brisk walk provides immediate immune benefits that can last for several hours afterwards. Every active minute counts and can add up to better health.

What counts as physical activity? A lot actually! You do not have to prove you are an Ironman champion and go all out over the holidays. Moderate-intensity activities that allow you to talk, but not sing, during the activity are an ideal place to start. Walk the dog. Dance with your partner. Play catch with your kids. Ride your bike to the store. Even household chores like raking leaves, vacuuming and lifting laundry baskets will rack up activity minutes. Looking for a structured workout option? Check out this video playlist of free workouts from ACSM’s International Health & Fitness Summit.

Want more out of your activity? Take it outside. Being active in nature amplifies the reduction in stress and anxiety and reduces blood pressure. Walk down a tree-lined street, be active in your backyard or find a local park or green space. Be sure to treat nature gently – stay on designated trails, take your trash home with you and leave plants and animals exactly where you see them.

Looking to give back while being active this holiday season? There are many Virtual Walk/Run/Roll options that benefit charitable organizations across the country.

It would not be 2020 if we did not talk about COVID-19. Be safe when you are active away from your home. Keep your distance (at least six feet) from people outside of your household and wear a face covering over your nose and mouth if others are too close.

From all of us at the American Fitness Index, we wish you happy and healthy holidays!

hand crushing cigarettes

Quit Smoking to Improve Your Health | Smoking Cessation Resources

Only 20  minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop. Within a few  days, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to a normal rate. After a few weeks your circulation and lung function improve, and after a year your risk of heart attack drops significantly. These are only some of the drastic changes your body undergoes when you quit smoking, as identified by the American Cancer Society.

Despite the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle, 15% of residents in America’s 100 largest cities are smokers. Across these cities, nearly 9.7 million people are at a heightened risk of certain cancers and coronary heart disease because of this habit. The Great American Smokeout, presented by the American Cancer Society, is Thursday, November 19, 2020. On this date, Americans are encouraged to make a plan to quit smoking. We have gathered a number of resources here to help you or others in your life make a plan to quit smoking.

graphic of US cities with highest smoking rates
This graphic shows the 10 cities ranked by the American Fitness Index to have the HIGHEST rates of adult residents who smoke.


Help Someone Else Quit Smoking

Help Employees Stop Smoking | American Lung Association

Smoking-Cessation: Role of the Fitness Professional in Clearing the Air | ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®

Helping a Smoker Quit: Do’s and Don’ts | American Cancer Society 


Support  To Quit Smoking

Sign up for support via text message | NIH – National Cancer Institute

Download the quitSTART app | CDC

Call the State Quitline | 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669, English) 855-DÉJELO-YA (855-335-3569, Español)

Call the National Quitline | 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848) (support in both English and Spanish)

Smoking Cessation Resources for Veterans  | NIH – National Cancer Institute

Freedom From Smoking, Smoking cessation support for public housing | American Lung Association and Anthem Foundation 

Smokefree.gov  | Resources from the  NIH – National Cancer Institute specifically supporting women, teens and seniors.

SmokefreeEspañol   | Recursos en español de NIH –   Transformación de Descubrimientos de la Salud®

Deciding to Quit Smoking and Making a Plan | American Cancer Society 

Other Ways to Quit Smoking | American Cancer Society

Getting Help with the Mental Part of Tobacco Addiction | American Cancer Society

You Can Quit Smoking: Here’s How | CDC

Quitting smoking is tough. But Dorise, a public housing resident in Milwaukee, not only quit with help from the Freedom From Smoking (FFS) program, but also became a champion for others who wish to follow in her footsteps. While the Anthem Foundation has partnered for years with the American Lung Association to help people quit, a smoke-free policy for all public housing locations that went into effect July 31, 2018, prompting the partners to expand the program to help people like Dorise quit smoking for good.


*The Anthem Foundation is the funding partner of the American Fitness Index.

pedestrians in cross walk

October is Pedestrian Safety Month

The release of the 2020 American Fitness Index saw the average  pedestrian fatality rate across  the U.S.’s 100 largest cities grow from 2.2 deaths per 100,000 residents to 2.6.  That represents   approximately 1,680 lives lost, an increase of   261 deaths from the previous report.

Neighborhoods connected by sidewalks, protected bike lanes, lighting and benches are essential for reducing pedestrian fatalities. Safety, both real and perceived, can impact how often residents walk or bike in their neighborhoods. The 10 deadliest cities for pedestrians averaged 5.5 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents while the 10 safest cities averaged 0.6 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

St. Paul, MN has the lowest pedestrian fatalities at .3 deaths per 100,000 residents









To raise awareness of this rising number, several states have launched October as Pedestrian Safety Month.

“Pedestrian deaths are unacceptably high so federal leadership to achieve zero deaths is absolutely critical. As motor vehicles have become increasingly safer for occupants due to design changes and the addition of supplemental safety features, the same can’t be said for pedestrians. More must be done to ensure people on foot can safely travel our roadways.” – Pam Shadel Fischer, GHSA Sr. Director of External Engagement and author of several national best practice reports on pedestrian,  bicyclist  and  micromobility  safety.

The most dangerous cities for pedestrians are (average deaths per 100,000 residents):

100.  Hialeah, FL (7.5)

99. Phoenix, AZ (6.6)

98. Albuquerque, MN (6.1)

97. Stockton, CA (5.5)

96.  (tie) Miami, FL (5.1)

96. (tie) Tampa, FL (5.1)

96. (tie) Detroit, MI (5.1)

93. (tie) St. Petersburg, FL (4.9)

93. (tie) New Orleans, LA (4.9)

91. El Paso, TX (4.7)

How does your city rank?

orange sky, poor city air quality

Unhealthy Air Quality in the U.S. Pacific Northwest

As fires plague the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, residents in the area must be particularly cautious when spending time outdoors due to poor air quality. As Dr. Liz Joy points out in a previous Fitness Index blog post:

There is incontrovertible evidence linking poor air quality to adverse health outcomes. This is especially true for people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, stroke, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, healthy people are at risk too. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to a higher risk of developing asthma, and recent studies have identified links between air pollution and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

You have likely seen eerie images on social media and the news of orange skies, particularly in the Bay Area of California. A healthy air quality index (AQI) range for any given day is a score between 0-50. Today’s (Friday, September 11, 2020) score in San Francisco, CA, is in the 200 range, which is considered “Unhealthy” to “Very Unhealthy” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this AQI range, everyone may experience mild to serious health effects, and members of sensitive groups (those with lung/heart disease, older adults, children and teens) are more likely to experience serious health effects. Download the airnow.gov app for your smart phone or visit www.airnow.gov, and review the AQI for your local area.

What is poor air quality?

The EPA measures the quality of ambient air for five major air pollutants that affect health and are regulated by the Clean Air Act. These are:

  1. Ground-level ozone
  2. Particle pollution (a.k.a. particulate matter)
  3. Carbon monoxide
  4. Sulfur dioxide
  5. Nitrogen dioxide

The current air quality dangers in the Pacific Northwest are fueled by wildfires. According to the EPA:

Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.

Learn more about how smoke from fires can affect your health in this post from the EPA.

Learn more and resources

Check out these ACSM and American Fitness Index original resources on air quality:

  • ACSM Viewpoint on climate change and active transportation – mentions air pollution and high ozone
  • ACSM.org blog on indoor air quality to promote PA in vulnerable populations
  • Fitness Index blog on outside air quality and PA

Learn more and stay active at home:


Healthy Eating in America’s 100 Largest Cities

The ACSM American Fitness Index, supported by the Anthem Foundation, ranks the 100 largest cities in America on a variety of personal and community health indicators, including number of farmers markets and fruit & vegetable consumption.

The 2020 rankings  revealed that these cities average 18.7 farmers markets per 1,000,000 residents, with Washington, D.C.,  topping  the list with 82.6 farmers markets per 1,000,000 residents.  Farmers markets are not only an essential resource for access to fresh produce, but they also stimulate the local economy. Check out tips for shopping seasonally at your local farmers market here.  Need assistance locating your nearest farmers market?  Use this handy search tool from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

farmers markets per 1M residents, top 10 list


When it comes to fruit and vegetable consumption,  many  of the ranked cities fall significantly below the recommend serving intake. Adults are recommended to consume at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day.   The average rate of residents meeting these recommendations across the ranked cities in 16.3% and 33.5%, respectively.  Three cities rank in the top 10 for both indicators:  Nashville, Tn., Arlington, Va.,  and San Jose, Ca.


Arlington, Virginia, es Nombrada “La Ciudad Más en Forma” en 2020 American Fitness Index® Ranking de los 100 mejores

La pandemia de COVID-19, la investigación subraya la importancia de la actividad física, la infraestructura en la batalla por la salud de la comunidad

Lisa Ramage (317) 352-3847 or Lramage@acsm.org (American College of Sports Medicine)

Mike Fulton (301) 651-2508 or MikeF@asheragency.com (Asher Agency)

Leslie Porras (202) 508-7891 or Leslie.Porras@anthem.com (Anthem Foundation)

Indianapolis (14 de julio, 2020) – Arlington, Virginia, ha sido nombrada “la ciudad más en forma de Estados Unidos” en el ranking anual American Fitness Index® publicado por el American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) y  Anthem Foundation, el brazo filantrópico de Anthem, Inc.

El ACSM/Anthem Fitness basado en la ciencia evaluó las 100 ciudades más grandes de los Estados Unidos utilizando 33 comportamientos de salud, enfermedades crónicas e indicadores de infraestructura comunitaria. Seattle, Wash.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; San Francisco, Calif.; Washington DC.; Irvine, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Boise, Idaho; y Boston, Mass., completan las 10 ciudades más en forma. Boston hace su primera aparición en el Top 10 este año. Puede acceder a los rankings y puntajes completos, el informe resumido, la herramienta de comparación de ciudades y otros datos en el sitio web del American Fitness en https://www.americanfitnessindex.org.

“Nos complace reforzar nuestro compromiso con nuestras comunidades locales y la salud y el bienestar de la persona integralmente con el Informe de Fitness Index de este año. Estas clasificaciones anuales ofrecen a las ciudades una guía significativa sobre los hábitos de salud dentro de sus comunidades y revelan cuán bien esas comunidades fomentan estilos de vida saludables entre sus residentes”, dijo Gail K. Boudreaux, presidenta y CEO de Anthem, Inc. “Nos complace proporcionar a los municipios la información rica en datos y recursos que necesitan para abordar los determinantes sociales de la salud y motivar a la acción”.

El evolucionante Fitness Index, ahora en su decimotercer año, permite a los líderes enfocarse en políticas, sistemas y estrategias de cambio ambiental que se basan en evidencia y crean sostenibilidad para sus comunidades.

El equilibrio de comportamientos saludables y la infraestructura comunitaria de Arlington le valieron el puesto número 1 en general. Arlington se ubicó en las 10 ciudades principales en 19 de los 33 indicadores en el ACSM/Anthem Fitness Index. Dos indicadores ocuparon el primer lugar, incluida la tasa más baja de adultos con obesidad y la tasa más alta de residentes que cumplen con las pautas de actividad aeróbica y de fuerza. Arlington se ha ganado el título de ciudad más en forma por tres años consecutivos. Puede comparar su ciudad con Arlington u otras en el ranking del Fitness Index accediendo a la Herramienta de Comparación de Ciudades en línea.

La pandemia de COVID-19 demuestra el papel fundamental que juegan las ciudades para garantizar que sus residentes tengan oportunidades e infraestructura para llevar estilos de vida saludables y físicamente activos. “Sabemos por la investigación que la actividad física puede desarrollar un sistema inmunológico más saludable y un bienestar general, lo que ayuda a minimizar los efectos nocivos cuando se esta enfermo y se tiene una enfermedad”, dijo Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, presidente de la Junta Asesora del American Fitness Index. “Esta pandemia muestra la necesidad de tener parques localmente, senderos y aceras conectadas en todos los vecindarios que permitan a las personas hacer ejercicio de manera segura. Los líderes y planificadores de la ciudad deben actuar con intensidad y decisión para promulgar políticas y fondos para promover la actividad física, una mejor salud y comunidades más fuertes”.

Ainsworth también señala que los desafíos de salud social existían mucho antes de la pandemia, y el Fitness Index ha proporcionado los datos necesarios para abordarlos durante más de una década. “Debería ser motivo de preocupación nacional que solo uno de cada cuatro estadounidenses cumpla con las pautas nacionales de actividad física y que más de 30 millones hayan sido diagnosticados con una enfermedad cardíaca”, agrega. “Los estilos de vida sedentarios en los Estados Unidos cuestan más de $117 mil millones anualmente en servicios de atención médica, lo que afecta negativamente tanto la salud como el bienestar económico de nuestra nación. Este desafío tiene soluciones locales, y el Fitness Index es una receta para que las comunidades generen cambios positivos”.

Los hallazgos adicionales de los rankings del 2020 Fitness Index incluyen:

  • En las 100 ciudades, los indicadores mejoraron para la tasa de ejercicio de los residentes; menos personas fumando; parques a una distancia de 10 minutos caminando; y Bike Score, en comparación con 2019.
  • En Buffalo, Nueva York, Toledo, Ohio y Anchorage, Alaska, las clasificaciones mejoraron en al menos 15 puestos desde 2019.
  • Solo el 22% de los adultos en las 100 ciudades más grandes cumplieron con las pautas para actividades aeróbicas y de fuerza. Los adultos necesitan 150 minutos por semana de actividad de intensidad moderada, o aproximadamente 22 minutos por día, para obtener beneficios sustanciales para la salud.
  • En las 100 ciudades, solo el 4.5% de los residentes camina o va en bicicleta al trabajo y solo el 7% usa el transporte público. Boston, Mass.; Jersey City, N.J.; Nueva York, N.Y.; San Francisco, Calif.; y Washington, D.C., informaron los mayores porcentajes.
  • Los vecindarios conectados por aceras, carriles para bicicletas protegidos, iluminación y bancos reducen las muertes de peatones. Las características de seguridad pueden afectar la frecuencia con la que los residentes eligen caminar o andar en bicicleta. Las 10 ciudades más mortales para los peatones (cuatro están en Florida) tuvieron un promedio de 5,5 muertes de peatones por cada 100 residentes, mientras que las 10 ciudades más seguras promediaron 0,6 muertes por cada 100.000 residentes.
  • Las ciudades que experimentaron condiciones climáticas extremas llegaron al top 10: Minneapolis, Minn. (# 3); Madison, Wis. (#4); y Denver, Colo. (#8), que muestra que los líderes locales pueden facilitar que los residentes se mantengan físicamente activos durante todo el año.

Los rankings de 2020 ACSM/Anthem Fitness Index son los siguientes: hay disponibles más rankings de datos comparativos e indicadores en https://www.americanfitnessindex.org.


Overall Rank


1 Arlington, Va.
2 Seattle, Wash.
3 Minneapolis, Minn.
4 Madison, Wis.
5 San Francisco, Calif.
6 Washington, D.C.
7 Irvine, Calif.
8 Denver, Colo.
9 Boise, Idaho
10 Boston, Mass.
11 San Diego, Calif.
12 St. Paul, Minn.
13 Chicago, Ill.
14 Oakland, Calif.
15 San Jose, Calif.
16 Portland, Ore.
17 Honolulu, Hawaii
18 Atlanta, Ga.
19 Lincoln, Neb.
20 Sacramento, Calif.
21 New York, N.Y.
22 Pittsburgh, Pa.
23 Milwaukee, Wis.
24 Albuquerque, N.M.
25 Buffalo, N.Y.
26 Chula Vista, Calif.
27 Santa Ana, Calif.
28 Virginia Beach, Va.
29 Long Beach, Calif.
30 St. Petersburg, Fla.
31 Austin, Texas
32 Aurora, Colo.
33 Colorado Springs, Colo.
34 Durham, N.C.
35 Anaheim, Calif.
36 Raleigh, N.C.
37 Anchorage, Alaska
38 Norfolk, Va.
39 Jersey City, N.J.
40 Fremont, Calif.
41 Newark, N.J.
42 Omaha, Neb,
43 Orlando, Fla.
44 Los Angeles, Calif.
45 Tampa, Fla.
46 Richmond, Va.
47 Miami, Fla.
48 Plano, Texas
49 Lubbock, Texas
50 New Orleans, La.
51 Cincinnati, Ohio
52 Philadelphia, Pa.
53 Baltimore, Md.
54 Glendale, Ariz.
55 Reno, Nev.
56 Dallas, Texas
57 Cleveland, Ohio
58 Tucson, Ariz.
59 Riverside, Calif.
60 Greensboro, N.C.
61 Nashville, Tenn.
62 Hialeah, Fla.
63 Chandler, Ariz.
64 Scottsdale, Ariz.
65 Stockton, Calif.
66 Garland, Texas
67 Charlotte, N.C.
68 Mesa, Ariz.
69 Houston, Texas
70 Winston-Salem, N.C.
71 Phoenix, Ariz.
72 St. Louis, Mo.
73 Irving, Texas
74 Columbus, Ohio
75 Chesapeake, Va.
76 Fresno, Calif.
77 El Paso, Texas
78 Baton Rouge, La.
79 Kansas City, Mo.
80 Gilbert, Ariz.
81 Toledo, Ohio
82 Jacksonville, Fla.
83 Laredo, Texas
84 San Antonio, Texas
85 Corpus Christi, Texas
86 Lexington, Ky.
87 Henderson, Nev.
88 Las Vegas, Nev.
89 Louisville, Ky.
90 Fort Worth, Texas
91 Wichita, Kan.
92 Fort Wayne, Ind.
93 Arlington, Texas
94 Indianapolis, Ind.
95 Detroit, Mich.
96 Memphis, Tenn.
97 Tulsa, Okla.
98 North Las Vegas, Nev.
99 Bakersfield, Calif.
100 Oklahoma City, Okla.


Acerca de American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

ACSM es la organización de medicina deportiva y ciencias del ejercicio más grande del mundo. Más de 50.000 miembros y profesionales certificados en todo el mundo están dedicados a avanzar e integrar la investigación científica para mejorar las aplicaciones educativas y prácticas de la ciencia del ejercicio y la medicina deportiva. Como líder mundial en la promoción de los beneficios de la actividad física, ACSM aboga por una legislación que ayude al gobierno y la comunidad de la salud a hacer de la actividad física una prioridad. ACSM anima al Congreso a apoyar la financiación continua de parques, senderos y rutas seguras a la escuela para permitir que todos los estadounidenses cumplan con las recomendaciones de actividad física prescritas incluidas en las Pautas Nacionales de Actividad Física. Encuentre detalles en www.acsm.org.

Acerca de Anthem Foundation

Anthem Foundation es el brazo filantrópico de Anthem, Inc. y a través de contribuciones y programas de caridad, la Foundation promueve el compromiso inherente de Anthem, Inc. para mejorar la salud y el bienestar de las personas y familias en las comunidades que Anthem, Inc. y sus planes de salud afiliados sirven. La Foundation enfoca su financiamiento en iniciativas estratégicas que conforman su Programa Healthy Generations, una iniciativa multigeneracional que se enfoca en: salud materna, prevención de diabetes, prevención de cáncer, salud cardíaca y estilos de vida saludables y activos, esfuerzos de salud conductual y programas que benefician a las personas con discapacidades La Foundation también coordina el programa Dollars for Dollars de la compañía durante todo el año, que proporciona un 100 por ciento de las donaciones de los asociados, así como sus programas de servicio comunitario Volunteer Time Off y Dollars for Doers. Para obtener más información sobre Anthem Foundation, por favor visite http://www.anthem.foundation y su blog en https://medium.com/anthemfoundation.


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child climbing at a park

The American Fitness Index in 2020 | The Essential Nature of Parks

For more than a decade the ACSM American Fitness Index® has provided an annual snapshot of community fitness for some of the largest cities and metro areas in the United States. From the start, the Fitness Index acknowledged the importance of parks, recreation facilities and assets like playgrounds, tennis courts and swimming pools. Not only are these resources for physical and mental health, they are civic, social and economic drivers. In a word, parks and recreation are essential.

Parks and public spaces are having a moment in 2020. The last four months have seen extraordinary changes for American cities and their residents. When the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading across the U.S., public officials closed schools and government offices, issued stay-at-home orders and restricted travel to only essential functions. With more time at home, many people did something they’ve never done before – they visited their local parks, walked on a neighborhood trail or dusted off their bikes and rode with confidence in a bike lane for the first time. City infrastructure like parks, trails, sidewalks and bike lanes were viewed in a whole new light. They were no longer just nice-to-have amenities; instead they quickly became essential public resources.

As the days and weeks wore on, parks transformed into escapes from our homes. On a dime, parks departments moved from organizing summer rec leagues and swimming lessons, to providing meals for school children, and eventually, to any person experiencing food insecurity. Parks departments also offered childcare for front-line workers, a critical component for ensuring workforce capacity was maximized.

Parks are much more than ball fields, picnic tables and charcoal grills. Parks are civic places as well, essential for historic and current protests seeking social justice and human rights. From speeches and marches on the National Mall to demonstrations in local parks, these public spaces have a long history of serving as a platform for change makers.

This agility and willingness to meet the needs of the community is not new to parks departments. For years they have delivered essential services, but rarely have they been funded at levels that reflect their value to the community. As the economic recession deepens, city tax revenue is in steep decline. Parks departments face dramatic budget cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs. Despite having filled critical gaps in the community, while generating more than $166 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 1.1 million jobs, public officials do not perceive parks departments as contributing to their biggest concern – economic development.

Parks, trails and recreation facilities attract business development and new residents, shape the quality of life for entire neighborhoods, and drive investment in communities. It is in all of our interest to call on public officials at all levels of government to increase funding for parks and recreation and to ensure equitable distribution of funds, resources and programming. As the writer and journalist Marty Rubin said, “Parks and playgrounds are the soul of a city.”

Authors: Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM, FNAK; Stella Volpe, Ph.D., R.D.N., ACSM-CEP, FACSM; Gretchen Patch, M.P.H. 

woman running on park trail

Take to the Trails!

The ancient curse “may you live in interesting times!” seems fitting right now. While the stay-at-home order has constrained our normally hectic lives, we have been able to spend more time with our families and participate in activities we didn’t take time to do before, like going for walks. Here in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic is occurring in months when the weather is more favorable for outdoor activities. This has led to some very positive developments, one of which is more people walking and exercising outdoors.

From a public health perspective, walking, biking or any outdoor physical activity is a great form of exercise. Walking, specifically, is very beneficial as evidenced by many studies.[1],[2]  Walking reduces blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and other cardiovascular risks; the risk of type II diabetes, preterm births and low-for-gestational-age births; as well as incidence of strokes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, asthma and coronary heart disease.  And, those are just the physical benefits!

Walking outside offers even more benefits. A summary of the research on this topic[3] indicates that exercising in the natural environment has direct and positive impact on wellbeing, including a greater reduction in blood pressure and cortisol (a hormone released during stress) compared to “synthetic” environments such as gyms, urban spaces and indoor exercise. It is thought that the outdoor environment reflects the role of nature in recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Also, exercising in nature might encourage starting and continuing health-enhancing behaviors like jogging on a path in a park. Interestingly, a review of outdoor versus indoor exercise[4] shows the greater benefit of exercising outside is on mental or emotional measures like better attention, higher energy and tranquility, as well as less anger, fatigue, sadness and depression.

Many communities and municipalities have invested in expanding trails and sidewalks for residents to utilize for exercise and commuting to nearby businesses. While these amenities add great benefits in terms of better health, desirability and home value, these are often near streets with vehicular traffic. This results in added stress from passing cars and trucks not to mention exposure to noise and fumes. Fortunately, some multipurpose trails in suburban and less-developed corridors have fewer adverse factors. State parks and recreation areas also include walking trails, offering more favorable places to exercise in stress-free, clean-air environments. Many residents in the U.S. have access to nearby trails in natural environments which would be ideal for exercising. Do you know of some nearby trails in parks or undeveloped areas that you can use? I’ll bet you do. In case you don’t, use this find a park resource to help.

Author: Terrell Zollinger

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743506005172

[2] https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/42/4/238.short

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118303323

[4] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-10-456?dom=prime&src=syn

Intentional Daily Movement | Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

My name is Olivia Affuso and I am a streak runner. I have run at least one mile every day for the last 600 consecutive days. This may seem like a lot, but there are people like Jon Sutherland who has been running every day for more than 50 years! Now, that, is a lot of running. Of course, this is more than enough, but the science is clear: We humans need regular physical activity to stay mentally and physically well.

Getting started can be tough as people move from ‘just thinking about it’ to actually engaging in physical activities like brisk walking, running or strength training. Research suggests that it takes about 66 days to establish a habit, and additional strategies may be needed to recover from any unexpected breaks due to injury and other things. Keeping it going long-term can be a challenge. Let’s just say, life happens.

2020 has thrown us all a serious curveball with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have had to change our routines—including those routines for our exercise goals or resolutions that often wane within the first months of the year.

But, how about during the pandemic? My observation, at least via social media, is that more people are engaging in exercise to deal with the stress of the ‘stay-at-home’ measures than before the crisis. I have noticed more live streaming of dance fitness, yoga, body weight strength classes and more. The online running groups I belong to are very active with individuals posting about their progress on one or more virtual races such as the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee – 1000K, which requires running five miles per day to complete it by the August 31st, 2020 deadline. There are over 18,000 registered participants from around the world. Of course, the number of participants is not evidence that previously sedentary people are getting more active. Hopefully, we will have some data about how COVID-19 is impacting people’s physical activity from a new ongoing study by researchers at Ohio University.

Has the pandemic affected my exercise routine? Absolutely! Initially, I experienced a steep drop in the duration and intensity of my running (from 35 miles to 15 miles/week) due to an increase in caregiving responsibilities as well as transitioning my in-person public health course of 56 students to an online format. However, I did not break my streak. I couldn’t break my streak. There is no way the 300 plus ladies in my online support and accountability group would let me quit without good reason. As a matter of fact, we currently have a 150-day one intentional mile challenge going until the end of May. Many of the women are on track to complete this challenge and several have shared their plans to keep their habit of intentional daily movement going for at least 365 days. Take Lisa for instance. She is a corporate executive who struggled with being consistent with her exercise until she started her first 50-day challenge. Not only is Lisa now meeting the national physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, she is walking a 5K every day and six miles virtually on Sundays with friends. She says she has never felt better and has no plans to break her walking streak.

Could this pandemic be your catalyst to start your own movement ‘streak’? Yes! You can do it. Here are my suggestions for getting started:

1) Choose an activity you like to do

2) Set a minimum time or distance for each day

3) Pick a start date

4) Find support

5) Be flexible

6) Have fun!

Of course, check with your physician before starting any exercise routine.


Author: Olivia Affuso, Ph.D., FACSM,  is a faculty member at the University of Alabama and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine Board of Trustees.