Tag: American Fitness Index

American Fitness Index Anthem Foundation fresh food availability

Supporting Local Communities in the Fight Against Food Insecurity

The American Fitness Index serves as a tool and resource for community stakeholders to address conditions in the environments that negatively affect a person’s overall health and identifies target areas to create healthier, more active communities.

Eliminating food insecurity is a critical factor in improving the overall health and well-being of individuals in the communities we serve, which is why the Anthem Foundation recently partnered with The Food Trust. Our collaboration will expand The Food Trust’s community-based program, the Healthy Food Retail Initiative, aimed at increasing access to healthy food and promoting health equity in cites in Indiana, Ohio and California.

Through our work with ACSM and programs like the Indianapolis Healthy Food Retail Initiative with The Food Trust, the Anthem Foundation is committed to creating meaningful partnerships with organizations, targeting specific, preventable health concerns and addressing the conditions in our environments which negatively impact individuals within communities.

For example, the 2019 Fitness Index found that only 33.9 percent of Indianapolis residents are eating two or more fruits a day and just 15.1 percent of residents are eating three or more vegetables each day. Data also showed more than one in three Indianapolis residents live in low food access areas where fresh food is difficult to find. Through these findings, it was clear that far too many Hoosiers are living without reliable access to a sufficient supply of affordable, nutritious food.

Fortunately, our partnership with The Food Trust recently expanded the Healthy Food Retail Initiative into five additional communities on the Eastside of Indianapolis, with markets and convenience stores increasing inventory and promotion of fresh produce and other heart-healthy foods. These locations also serve as “community health hubs” by providing health screenings, nutrition education and cooking lessons.

We believe giving back is not only a privilege, but a responsibility that we all share. Since the Foundation’s inception, we have remained committed to improving health and strengthening local communities through contributions to organizations committed to empowering communities to create healthier generations.

 

Author: Stephen Friedhoff, MD, Chief Clinical Officer, Anthem, Inc.

Since 2006, the Anthem Foundation has awarded the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) over $1.2M as a founding partner to establish the American Fitness Index.

Seasonal shopping at your local farmers market

Eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is the ideal way to get the necessary vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Planning meals around food that is in-season is a great way to stay healthy and keep variety in your diet!

Now that you know eating seasonally has great health benefits, how do you start planning your fresh meals? The first step is knowing where to buy ingredients. Your local farmers market is the perfect place to get seasonal produce because the sellers have likely traveled less than 50 miles from where they grow to get to the market. You can’t get fresher than that! An added bonus to shopping at your local farmers market is that you are supporting growers in your own community. This helps to build and maintain your local economy, as well as strengthen the ties of your neighborhood. Finally, many farmers markets also accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) vouchers to make sure that fresh food is accessible to all. Not sure where the closest farmers market is located? The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a search tool!

The next step in planning fresh meals is knowing which produce is currently in-season in your area. This can vary depending on the climate in your hometown, but the below chart can be used as a basic reference.

seasonal produce chart

To find seasonal food in your area, use the Seasonal Food Guide.

Now it’s time to have fun and decide which foods you will eat! Try mixing in your favorites, as well as some new options to keep meals exciting and maximize your nutrient intake. Want to try a new food, but not sure the best way to prepare it? Ask the seller! As the one who has grown the food, they will be very familiar with its flavor and will be able to recommend what other foods pair well. Enjoy!

Download the above chart as a PDF. 

Changes in the 2019 ACSM American Fitness Index: What Impact Will They Have?

Since the creation of the ACSM American Fitness Index®, the data team constantly looks for ways to improve the rankings. Also, as data sources change the information they gather, we must make changes in the indicators that are used. Both improvements and data source changes took effect as we prepared the 2019 Fitness Index rankings.

The data team worked closely with the experts on the Fitness Index Advisory Board to add four new measures to make the Fitness Index more complete:

  • Complete Streets policy
  • Pedestrian fatality rate
  • Bike Score®
  • Air quality index

These new indicators reflect the importance of policy and built environment in supporting active living that will lead to improved personal health outcomes. For example, cities that successfully implement Complete Streets policies can reduce pedestrian fatalities. Likewise, cities with high Bike Scores help to ensure bicyclists are safe and comfortable riding for transportation and recreation, which improves physical and mental health. While air quality is not often thought of in relation to physical activity, poor air quality has been shown to discourage physically active lifestyles, especially among people with respiratory limitations like asthma or COPD.

The data team also removed three indicators to help balance the Fitness Index and removed one indicator that no longer had a reliable data source:

  • Parkland as percentage of city
  • Acres of parkland/1,000 residents
  • Dog parks/100,000 residents
  • Percentage of residents getting 7+ hours of sleep/day

The three park-related indicators were removed to focus on the built environment characteristics that have a measurable effect on physical activity behaviors and health outcomes. The Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System stopped regularly asking how much sleep people got on average; as a result, the sleep measure was removed from the list of indicators.

The data team also made some adjustments in the placement and weight applied to a few indicators to improve balance and consistency. Even with these changes, the 2019 Fitness Index includes the same number of indicators as were used in 2018 (33), and most of the indicators did not change.

The data team and Fitness Index Advisory Board do not make decisions about changes in the Fitness Index lightly, because cities need to know if their level of “fitness” is getting better from year to year. A lot of discussion and debate occurs among our expert advisors whenever changes are considered. The experts must be convinced that the changes follow current scientific thinking and will make the Fitness Index better; however, we also realize substantial changes cause problems when comparing rankings and scores over time.

With these changes, you might be wondering, “How do these changes impact my city’s score and ranking for 2019?” We believe that the 2019 Fitness Index is a more accurate and fair measure of your city’s fitness, which is a really good thing. However, when you compare the rankings and scores in 2019 to those reported in 2018, part of the shift may be due to the changes in the methods. For example, cities that have invested in making their streets and neighborhoods safer for walking and biking may see a better ranking in 2019 compared to last year, while cities that have larger and more parks may see a drop in the rankings due to these changes.

Advice for interpreting your city’s rank and scores for 2019

Although it is a natural inclination, please don’t compare the overall ranking and scores to those of previous years. Part of the change in rankings could be due to the updates that were made this year. Instead, look at where your city falls generally in relation to the other cities on the list. Is your city in the top 25, in the bottom 25 or somewhere in the middle?

What you also can and should do, is compare your city’s individual indicators from 2018 to 2019 to see which ones improved. After all, the goal of the Fitness Index is to see if your city’s residents are getting healthier and if there have been improvements in your city’s infrastructure to encourage healthy behaviors.

As always, our team here at the American College of Sports Medicine supports and applauds your efforts to become more fit and healthy! We believe the 2019 Fitness Index rankings can help inform decisions that will make your city and its residents healthier.

The 2019 American Fitness Index rankings will be released on May 14, 2019. 

Sign up to get exclusive insights into the report on the day of the release.

 

Author: Terrell W. Zollinger, Dr.P.H, MSPH

Five Frequently Asked Questions About the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition

In 2008, the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued the federal government’s first-ever Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (Guidelines) to help Americans understand the types and amounts of physical activity that offer important health benefits. Given the extensive amount of new information available over the past decade, DHHS released the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans on November 12, 2018.

 

#1 How many Americans meet the Physical Activity Guidelines?

In 2017, only about 20% of high school students and 25% of adults reported getting enough physical activity to meet the aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines.

 

#2 How much physical activity do school-aged youth and adults need?

The guidelines for children and adolescents are as follows:

  • It is important to provide young people opportunities and encouragement to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable and that offer variety.
  • Children and adolescents aged six through 17 years should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily:
    • Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least three days a week.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least three days a week.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least three days a week.

The guidelines for adults are as follows:

  • Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  • Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

See Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition for additional key guidelines for the following populations:

  • Preschool-aged children.
  • Older adults.
  • Women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
  • Adults with chronic health conditions and adults with disabilities.
  • Safe physical activity.

 

#3 To meet the current Physical Activity Guidelines, do Americans need to be more or less active compared to what was first recommended in 2008?

The new evidence reinforces the amounts and types of physical activity recommended for youth and adults in the 2008 Guidelines. The total amount of physical activity didn’t change in the second edition of the Guidelines. However, unlike the 2008 Guidelines, with the current Guidelines, moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity no longer needs to occur in bouts of at least 10 minutes to count towards meeting the adult aerobic activity guideline.

 

#4 What has changed in this second edition of the Guidelines?

This second edition of the Guidelines reflects the extensive amount of new knowledge gained since the 2008 release of the first edition of the Guidelines. This second edition of the Guidelines discusses the proven benefits of physical activity and outlines the amounts and types of physical activity recommended for different ages and populations. For example, new aspects include discussions of:

  • Immediate and longer-term benefits for how people feel, function and sleep after being physically active.
  • Additional health benefits of physical activity related to brain health, additional cancer sites and fall-related injuries.
  • Further benefits of being active among older adults and people with additional chronic conditions.
  • Risks of sedentary behavior and their relationship with physical activity.
  • Guidance on activity levels for preschool children aged three through five years.
  • Elimination of the requirement for physical activity of adults to occur in bouts of at least 10 minutes.
  • Tested strategies that can be used to get the population more active.

 

#5 Where can I find more information?

Learn more about the latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. You can also explore the Move Your Way for interactive tools (like the one below), motivational videos, and helpful tips to make it easier to move more and sit less. Remember, physical activity can make you feel better right away including:

  • Boosting your mood,
  • Sharpening your focus,
  • Reducing your stress, and
  • Improving your sleep.

Author: Kathleen B. Watson, Ph.D. 

2018 Physical Activity Guidelines – How to Meet the Goals in Everyday Activities

The other day I heard a story about a woman who hated to exercise. She wanted nothing of it: going to the gym, sweating, walking on the treadmill. Boring. No way! She’d heard about the latest 2018 U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines, but had dismissed them as irrelevant to her life.

Recently, she stumbled onto an article that said the activities she was doing in everyday life counted as exercise and that moving more could actually make her feel better. “Cleaning the house, sweeping the porch, mowing the lawn, and walking my child to school are exercise? Really? I need to learn more!”

Off she went to search the internet. She discovered the Compendium of Physical Activities that listed MET values for hundreds of activities. METs? What are those? After learning that METs are a multiple of energy expended at rest (1 MET), the woman got a paper and pen and went to work. She listed all of her daily activities and how much time she did them each week. Then she separated the activities into light-, moderate-, and vigorous-intensity categories based on the MET values. Low and behold, she spent a lot of time in moderate activities and even some in vigorous activities. Amazing!

She wondered, how many minutes are ‘enough’? She remembered the 2018 U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines and went back to the internet. The guidelines recommended that she should “move more and sit less throughout the day.” Check! She did that.

The guidelines also recommended that she also “do at least 150 – 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activities (3.0-5.9 METs) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activities (6.0 and higher METs), or a combination of the two intensities each week. Preferably the activities should be aerobic. And every minute counted.” Based on her list of activities and METs, she was close to meeting that goal too. She was on a roll!

The third guideline stopped her in her tracks. They recommended she “do at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all her major muscle groups.” Whoa. She didn’t do any muscle strengthening activities. She had no idea what were her major muscle groups.

Back to the internet for more information.

The woman learned that it’s important to work the major muscle groups: the chest, shoulders, back, biceps and triceps, legs and calves, and stomach. Oh. No way she worked these muscle groups at least two days a week, let alone one day a week.

To get help with where to start, the woman went to a nearby gym and worked with a trainer who showed her exercises to strengthen her muscles. She added these exercises to her schedule twice a week and, she liked it! She was getting stronger, her body was firming up and she liked how she felt during and after her workouts. She was sweating and loving it!

Before she knew it, the woman was looking for ways to get moving intentionally. She dusted off that old bicycle in the garage and took it for a spin. She bought a fitness tracker and took the long way to pick up her child at school. She even signed up for an exercise class to get more minutes of vigorous-intensity activities. Moving more had become a part of her life. Everything she was doing, even the bite-sized amounts of activity, counted toward her activity goals. She felt great, slept better, and had more energy.

The moral to this story is that if we move every day, we are doing positive things for our mental and physical health. The new 2018 U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines tell us how much activity we need on a regular basis to improve our health and reduce our risk of chronic diseases. So here’s to an active and healthy 2019 as we aim for every child, adult and senior to reach the goals set in the 2018 U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines.

 

Author: Barbara E. Ainsworth

Getting up to speed on Complete Streets: 9 things you should know

Complete Streets. You’ve heard of it, but you’re not exactly sure what it means or how it can benefit your community. Our friends at the National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) put together a handy Q&A to help understand some of the basics of Complete Streets.

#1 Who is the National Complete Streets Coalition?

The National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, is a non-profit, non-partisan alliance of public interest organizations and transportation professionals committed to the development and implementation of Complete Streets policies and practices.

We believe that the streets of our cities and towns must allow all people, regardless of age, ability, income, race or ethnicity, to safely, comfortably and conveniently access homes, employment centers, schools, shops, health facilities and other destinations by foot, bicycle, public transportation, car or truck. A community’s street network should reflect the current and planned built environments and support overall public and economic health.

#2 What are Complete Streets?

A nationwide movement launched by the Coalition in 2004, Complete Streets means putting people first whenever we plan, design, construct, operate and maintain our street networks.

#3 Who are Complete Streets for?

Complete Streets serve the needs of all people who use the road equitably, particularly the most historically underinvested and underserved communities and the most vulnerable users of our roads, including people walking or biking, older adults and people of color. Transportation choices should be safe, convenient, reliable, affordable, accessible and timely. These options should be available to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, income, gender identity, immigration status, age, ability, languages spoken or level of access to a personal vehicle.

#4 What does it mean to create Complete Streets?

Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads and think about streets as places for people, not just cars. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to ensure all people can safely access the street, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists—making your town a better place to live. Read more about the benefits of Complete Streets.

#5 What do Complete Streets look like?

There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique because it responds to its community context. A complete street may include:

  • sidewalks
  • bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders)
  • special bus lanes
  • comfortable and accessible public transportation stops
  • frequent and safe crossing opportunities
  • median islands
  • accessible pedestrian signals
  • curb extensions
  • narrower travel lanes
  • roundabouts

A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from a complete street in a dense, urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road (not just cars). Check out examples of Complete Streets case studies.

#6 Why would I want my community to have a Complete Streets policy?

Across the country and on Capitol Hill, Complete Streets policies have been gaining traction as more places realize the benefits of having safe, accessible and healthy streets in their communities.

With a Complete Streets policy in place, communities can work toward creating complete networks so people can safely and comfortably walk or bike anywhere they need to go. Complete Streets create opportunities for people to get physical activity in their day-to-day lives. They can connect people to schools, jobs, healthy foods, parks and other community amenities. And Complete Streets aren’t just safer and healthier – they also help create stronger economies, boosting jobs and revenue for local businesses.

#7 What’s in a Complete Streets policy?

Complete Streets can be achieved through a variety of policies:

  • ordinances and resolutions
  • rewrites of design manuals
  • inclusion in comprehensive plans
  • internal memos from directors of transportation agencies
  • policies adopted by city and county councils
  • and executive orders from elected officials, such as Mayors or Governors.

The strongest policies should include ten core elements, including identifying the most vulnerable users who the policy will benefit, committing to implement the policy in all transportation projects, working together with private developers and other jurisdictions, defining how the policy will measure success and setting up the next steps needed to implement the policy. Download the 10 elements.

#8 Does my community have a Complete Streets policy?

The National Complete Streets Coalition maintains an inventory of adopted Complete Street policies across the U.S. In total, over 1400 Complete Streets policies have been passed in the United States, including those adopted by 33 state governments, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. View Complete Streets policy atlas.

#9 Okay, I’m convinced. My community needs a Complete Streets policy. Where do I start?

Our policy framework, the Elements of a Complete Streets Policy, is an excellent place to start. Based on decades of collective expertise in transportation planning and design, the ten elements serve as a national model of best practices that can be implemented in nearly all types of Complete Streets policies at all levels of governance.

Eager for more information? You can subscribe to the National Complete Streets Coalition newsletter and follow them on twitter. The coalition also works directly with communities to help them develop, adopt and implement strong Complete Streets policies. Learn more about their technical assistance work.

active transportation

Active Transportation Choices May Affect Your Wallet and Waistline

It is not surprising that having healthy habits, like walking every day, is one way to fight the holiday bulge. But did you know that it can also keep a little extra padding in your pocketbook? As colder weather sets in many of us look forward to a fun and festive holiday season. This busy time of year and its blustery winter weather can also mean that some of our summertime activities and active transportation habits become a distant memory. Add to that the surplus of heart-warming treats and holiday beverages, and it’s easy to see why so many of us set resolutions to lose weight and exercise more when January 1st rolls around.

Active transportation is known as a solid way to get active, which can save on health care costs. Active transportation typically means walking or biking to get from place to place, but can also include using public transportation, where the active component is getting to and from stations or stops. An example of this comes from Toronto, Canada. Estimates from proposed improvements to the region’s transportation system would increase transit use by 7.8 percent. When these people switch from cars to transit, it’s projected to prevent 338 deaths, 1,000 cases of diabetes, and $1.67 billion USD ($2.2 billion CA) in annual health savings. It’s noteworthy that not all of these savings are from increased physical activity, as factors such as emissions reductions and reduced traffic fatalities were included in the estimates, but who’s going to scoff at those added benefits?

Of course, transitioning to walking places or taking public transit when you’re not doing so already isn’t easy. This is likely because of 60-plus years of development across the American landscape that prioritized sprawling, disconnected suburbs. Add to that an American culture with a deep fondness for car ownership and personal travel, and it takes planning and motivation to make active transportation a part of your daily routine. However, these changes are comfortable when a city builds activity-supportive environments.

For over 10 years, the American Fitness Index has monitored transportation systems and activity-supportive environments as key influencers of community fitness. This report evaluates the healthiness of cities – including several measures of active transportation. The percent of a city’s inhabitants who walk, bike or use public transportation to get to work, and the city’s average Walk Score – which measures how walking-friendly an area is for daily errands – are critical components of the overall Fitness Index rankings.

The Fitness Index aims to help public officials, concerned citizens, local community groups and health organizations assess the essential aspects of their city’s overall health and quality of life. While you plan to dig out the winter wardrobe, take some time to motivate yourself to walk, bike or even take public transit on your next outing, not only to fight that holiday bulge, but maybe save a little extra money for the holiday gift fund.

 

Author: Jane C. Hurley 

Anchorage Alaska Parks

Love parks? Anchorage, Alaska is the place for you!

Anchorage has more public access to park space per city acre than any other state in the United States, and its extremely variable climate presents the unique opportunity of hosting both winter and summer sports. Anchorage, the largest city in the state of Alaska, is surrounded by majestic mountain ranges and covered with forest and open fields. Recently, Anchorage was top of the “Parks” category in the 2018 American College of Sports Medicine’s American Fitness Index.

The Municipality of Anchorage, with 84.2 percent covered in parkland, easily leads the country for space designated to parks in a city. Anchorage also ranks first in the category of acres of parkland per 1,000 residents with over 223 parks, each averaging 4.7 acres in size. Up to 71% of Anchorage’s residents live within a ten-minute walk to one of its many parks. Most parks are available for use year-round, and the activities change along with the seasons. In the summer, temperatures reach as high as 90° F, averaging a comfortable 65° F. Soccer, football, disc golf and cycling are a common sight at local parks. Families spend time on the playgrounds and walk along Anchorage’s scenic trails. In the winter, however, temperatures can drop below -30° F, and Anchorage averages 74 inches of snow per year. Those conditions don’t stop the community from using their parks, but rather open up opportunities for cross country skiing on the freshly groomed 250 miles of trails, as well as downhill skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the backcountry. Additionally, many of Anchorage’s outdoor parks and facilities are designed for use during both winter and summer. Basketball courts and lakes, for example, are often “hot-mopped” and converted to free outdoor skating rinks.

Kincaid Park Anchorage Alaska
1,500 acre Kincaid Park is one of the most popular parks in Anchorage, Alaska.

One of the most popular parks is the 1,500-acre Kincaid Park. It is well known for its sand dunes and access to the beach, and a goat-trail path along a breathtaking 300-foot bluff. The community has free access to soccer fields, a disc golf course, archery, fishing and wildlife viewing. Many community groups, such as the University of Alaska Anchorage Nordic Ski Team, take advantage of nearly 40 miles of world-class trails, all of which are groomed over in winter and used for roller skiing during the summer. The park has been a host for many community, high-school and college ski races, as well as U.S. National Championships and Olympic trials.

Volunteers are an integral part of maintaining and beautifying Anchorage parks and trails. Every year, volunteers contribute thousands of hours of service to the Parks and Recreation Department because the people of Anchorage value their outdoor space. In 2013, volunteers tallied over 125,000 hours of service to Anchorage parks. From general upkeep to specific jobs like grooming trails and prepping outdoor skating rinks, the volunteers are the reason that Alaska’s parks remain world-class.

With all of its magnificent parks, it’s obvious why outdoor enthusiasts are drawn from all over the world to visit Anchorage. Whether winter or summer, Anchorage is the perfect place to get moving outside and enjoy all that the 49th state has to offer without having to drive more than 20 miles in any direction.

Authors: Maryann Hoke, Junland Navarro, Yvonne Jeschke, Liam Lindsay and Darrion Gray of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department of the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. 

Parks: More Than Just a Playground

Summertime is in full swing, and, for many of us, it’s the time of year we consider engaging with the great outdoors. However, as much as we might like, we can’t make every day a journey into nature … or can we? Local parks are a significant way to bring a piece of nature into our neighborhoods. And perhaps surprisingly, they may be doing a lot more good than just being a place to take the kids for a push on the swing.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination that parks help communities be more physically active. The relationship between parks and activity levels is so strong that the American Fitness Index – a ranking that evaluates the health and fitness of cities – includes several measures of parks in a community. For example, the rankings look at the total number of parks, the percent of residents living within a ten-minute walk to a park, and even local government spending on parks, a policy-level consideration. These are just a few featured indicators that are used to evaluate the cities that are ranked yearly.

Science shows that in addition to getting people to move more, parks also improve mental well-being and are essential for community connectedness—a critical aspect of social health.

One might wonder how a simple park can achieve so much! The open space or grassy areas in parks are great places to play catch with a friend or do exercises on your own. In addition, parks provide beautiful tree canopies for walking and moments of tranquility. And of course, many parks have sports fields or courts for team activities, outdoor gyms, and playground equipment for kids that can easily be repurposed for working out.

And what about mental health? The mental health community knows that “greenspace” positively impacts psychological well-being. Greenspace is an umbrella term that includes both open wilderness and urban parks and has been linked to greater mental health and well-being. Not only do parks and greenspace support physical activity, which is well known to improve mental health, but they also benefit psychological health through peaceful and relaxing sounds as well as feelings of closeness to nature. Related to this are the benefits parks and greenspace may have to social health, one driver of which is community connectedness. The physical parkland area may attract family, friends, and the larger community to come together for various social reasons.

And finally, parks may actually be saving money in health care costs. A recent UK report found that park users are healthier – saving an astonishing £111 million (US$146 million) in medical expenses for that country.

The parks in our neighborhoods are spaces that can contribute significantly to our health and well-being. While seasonal activities are a great way to get outdoors, for many, local parks are accessible nearly every day of the year. See how your city ranks on parks plus many other health and fitness indicators in the 2018 American Fitness Index.

Author

Jane C. Hurley 

7 Tips for Shopping at Your Local Farmers Market

There are nearly 9,000 farmers markets currently in operation across the United States. With offerings ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to locally raised meats to fresh cut flowers and more, your local farmers market plays a huge role in both the accessibility of nourishing food and the stimulation of the local economy.

August 4-10, 2019  is National Farmers Market Week, and it’s the perfect time to explore your local market. To get the most out of your experience, remember these seven easy tips:

  1. Plan out your trip. Make sure you know the location of the market and its hours. Look for details about public transportation, bike racks and parking to make sure that your commute will be smooth. Additionally, many farmers markets welcome pets, but check the rules before you bring your furry friends along. Looking for a market near you? You can search the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory.
  2. Pack reusable bags to carry your fresh finds. Being green is in! Use cloth or recyclable paper bags instead of plastic.
  3. Make sure you have enough cash. More and more farmers market vendors are accepting credit cards these days, but many are not. Bring plenty of cash! It’s also thoughtful to bring small bills. You don’t want to wipe out a vendor’s change when you pay for $1 worth of produce with a $20.
  4. Arrive early! The freshest produce and the most desirable items will go to those who arrive right when the market opens. On the flip side of this, you may be able to get more deals if you’re shopping right before closing time, since vendors will want to sell rather than carrying products home. But a fair warning: if you’re shopping for something specific, it may have sold out if you wait too long to get there!
  5. Browse before you buy. Many of the vendors’ booths will have the same or similar produce and products. Look at all the options and compare quality, quantity and price before making your decisions.
  6. Strike up a conversation! Ask the vendors about their farms or their process for creating the products that they sell. Not only will you have learned more about your local area, but you may make a new friend as well!
  7. Have a plan for your produce. Since farmers market vendors are selling straight from their farms or fields, they will have a shorter shelf life than the produce items that you will find at a super market. There’s nothing sadder than seeing beautiful, nourishing food go to waste because you brought home more than you could eat. You may want to cook in bulk, freeze or can produce items. Otherwise, plan to buy only what you will eat in the following few days.

Now it’s time to get out and explore your local farmers market! Enjoy the nutritious benefits while supporting growers in your hometown.