When people think of health and fitness, some think of physical attributes, such as size or weight. If you close your eyes and think of what a healthy person might look like, what do you see? Are they fit and trim? Smiling? Muscular? Some would probably say all of the above. However, when describing a community, “health and fitness” reaches far beyond physical attributes. Healthy communities offer many other total-life benefits, including:
- Better Mental health. Research shows that mental health is just as important as physical health. Nurturing your mind, spirit, and soul can have just as much of an impact in your overall well-being as nurturing your physical body. Healthy communities offer opportunities to manage mental health by offering things like yoga, places to worship, opportunities to volunteer and give back to those in need, and ways to learn new skills.
- Cleaner Environments. A healthy community helps take care of its own environment. It can be as simple as making sure parks have adequate receptacles for recycling and rubbish, offering adopt-a-road opportunities for civic groups to build ownership in a particular area, or cleaning up local waterways and walkways.
- Financial Soundness. Healthy communities aren’t reserved for high-income wage earners. Any community can offer financial education that teaches residents about budgeting, investing, money management, how to pay for college or search for scholarships, and how to understand lending and interest rates. An educated community helps its members make better financial decisions with the wisdom that is both learned, and then passed on to families
- Safer. Healthy communities are statistically safer. Residents look out for each other, either formally through a neighborhood watch, or through good community design with street lights, paved walking paths or sidewalks, and adequate support from law enforcement. Spaces for kids to have afterschool programs help kids feel safe, but also help parents and caregivers have peace of mind knowing their kids are in a welcoming, safe, and healthy place while outside of the home.
- Better physical wellness. Healthy communities offer ways for residents of all ages to stay fit, which improves their cardiovascular health, reduces heart attacks, reduces sickness and diseases, and increases lifespan.
Communities that band together and create ways for their space to flourish through multiple avenues–including fitness–help build an environment that its residents, visitors, and patrons love. But it’s not just one little thing that helps mold this space, and it’s not just up to one person. Together, a community can use these five keys to improve health and fitness in their community:
Key One: Involvement
Involve local business, government, and law enforcement supporters. Look for ways they can help, not just as financial backers, but also as volunteers, advocates, and allies. The benefit is two-fold. As businesses become involved in the community to support local health and fitness efforts, community members get to know who they are, put a name with a face, and begin to develop trust in those entities.
For businesses, that could translate to increased sales or referrals as patrons invest their hard earned dollars back into businesses they feel a connection with. For governments, that could transform into much-needed community involvement in town halls, where residents can make recommendations for new legislation, support applying for new grants to help with funding, or justify new purchases such as playgrounds or multi-purpose spaces.
Key Two: Investment
The key here isn’t just investment of dollars, but investing time and resources. Businesses who are invested in the community can help improve health and fitness for all. Specifically for local medical facilities or doctors, supporting the members within the community not only helps the community have an higher level of physical fitness overall, but helps pave the way to offer alternative health provisions to nourish and fuel the body in different ways such as holistic medicine, providing nutritious food options, offering pop-up or seasonal farmer’s markets, and offering educational services.
For instance, a program recently developed by the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program for Harlem, NY provides opportunities for future doctors to volunteer just a few hours per month during the 3-4 years of their residency. They provide a wide range of social, educational, legal, nutritional, physical, and mental health services for everything from parenting classes to nutritional services, language classes for immigrants, and fitness opportunities. This program is just one example of a sustainable model for building that bridge by investing in communities, and works in both urban and rural settings, but it’s a great opportunity to showcase just how much we need that partnership between the medical and residential communities.
Key Three: Inclusion
Studies across the globe have shown that communities who engage in recreation together develop stronger bonds, are healthier, and happier. But for members to engage in fitness together, those opportunities can’t be exclusive. They can’t offer space for only affluent members, only already-thin-and-fit members, or only children. We know that fitness is important at EVERY age, and if we want to increase health and fitness in the entire community, we have to offer opportunities for every age, social status, and background. That means whether someone is just starting out in their fitness journey, is trying to get their whole family to walk around their neighborhood in the evenings, or is a bodybuilder-in-the-making, they all get kudos for taking the next step in their fitness journey.
Key Four: Inexpensive
Inflation costs are rising, gas prices fluctuate from day to day, and investment dollars can be hard to come by. One critical key to improving health and fitness in a community is to make it affordable. If creating health and fitness opportunities are out of reach financially, they’ll be impossible to implement. But if costs stay low, or there’s a return on investment in the future, cities are more likely to support the efforts.
The best options are those that are either low cost options, options that might have a higher cost up front but will last for years to come, or those that are simultaneous-use spaces. Higher cost investments up front can be offset by fundraising, grant money, or local business financial investments.It’s also important for recreation, afterschool, and exercise facilities to have options for reusable, durable equipment that isn’t a one-time use. At Skillastics®, one of the things we get the most positive feedback on, is how durable our Activity Kits are, and how much our customers appreciate that they can be reused over and over again, helping to really stretch a program’s limited dollars.
Key Five: Innovative
Think outside the box when it comes to offering places, spaces, and types of health and fitness opportunities. Offer different types of fitness options that are appeal to different fitness types.
- Consider simultaneous-use spaces, such as a paved walking track around a community ball field so walkers, runners, and parents can exercise while kids are practicing, or a playground at the end of the field so younger siblings can work out their wiggles offers things to do other than sit in a car or on a bleacher nearby.
- Open spaces like skate parks, dog parks where owners can engage in outdoor play with their pets, or open fields for disc golf, volleyball nets, or tennis courts.
- Opportunities for age-group inclusion, such as a local children’s and youth’s dance studio that offers classes for adults one night a week, or themed nights, like 80’s Babies, Groove to the 70s, or Indoor Bungee Jumping to the Bee Gees where dance studios relax the normally stringent rules for younger ballet students so moms, dads, and grandmas can groove in their favorite throwback outfits.
- Running or walking clubs for different age groups and walking speeds.
- For afterschool and youth facilities, offer different fitness programs, on a rotational basis so kids and youth learn something new and practice using different muscle groups as they exercise. Skillastics® offers so many options from digital to in-person fitness, progressive learning programs, and even mind and body programs to help improve mental health. Remember that community health and fitness also includes spaces and ways to improve mental health, unwind and destress.
- Consider ways that differently-abled community members may need to play. Is your walking space accessible by wheelchair? Does your playground have a fun space where differently-abled kids can play, swing, and engage without physical or social barriers?
The more you consider how fitness can looks different to everybody, the more fitness options you can provide to every BODY. One person alone can’t form a healthy, fit community. But together, by incorporating these five keys, you’ll have everything you need to build a strong foundation and start improving the health and fitness of your own community.
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