Active Living: Making the right choice the easy choice

I am basically a lazy person. I don’t work-out and I sit behind a computer all day. I know I should watch what I eat. If I shed a few pounds (ok, many pounds) I would feel better and live longer.

Turns out I’m not alone.

Across the country, in every state except Colorado at least 20% of all of us are classified “obese” by the Centers for Disease Control. In some states that figure balloons up past 30%.  Further, the CDC found that in 1969, 87% of children 5-18 years of age who lived within one mile of school walked or biked to school.  In 2001, only 16% did.   These trends add up to pretty serious medical risks. As reported in the New York Times:

For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, according to a [2005] report, which contends that the rapid rise in childhood obesity, if left unchecked, could shorten life spans by as much as five years.


But what are you going to do about?  We’re busy people and we do the best we can.  Nobody can blame us for that?

No, but there are many things we can do to “make the active choice the easy choice”.

Active Living By Design

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has sponsored some interesting work the last few years around the idea of Active Living By Design.  They looked at how communities can bring down barriers to being more active—to making the active choice the easy choice.

Active Living is a way of life that integrates physical activity into daily routines. The goal is to accumulate at least 30 minutes of activity each day. Individuals may achieve this by walking or bicycling for transportation, exercise or pleasure; playing in the park; working in the yard; taking the stairs; and using recreation facilities.

Here’s where the planners come in.

We have spent the last 60 years trying to make the easy choice, well, the easy choice.  BlueCross BlueShield MN explains:

Current land use trends have increased dependence on driving and made walking, biking and public transit less safe and practical. In fact, 75 percent of short trips (less than one mile) are made by car. Both adults and children are now less likely to make short trips by biking or walking.

We have engineered long, unwalkable distances between homes, convenience shopping, jobs and schools.  We stopped building sidewalks and neighborhood schools.  We build parking lots the size of small nations.  We have focused so much time and money on making driving easier, that everything else is more difficult.  So now it’s time to swing the pendulum back towards people and giving them more choices to get around.

BlueCross BlueShield MN has taken a leading role in working with communities in the Active Living Network.  In Southwest Minnesota, they have been working in the city of Pipestone for awhile, and have been successful in promoting biking and walking.  Recently, I have been able to work on a project in Jackson, Cottonwood,Redwood and Renville counties.  Local public health agencies are utilizing State of Minnesota funding to involve BlueCross BlueShield MN consultants to facilitate local efforts to become more active communities.

It’s an exciting time to be working on this in Minnesota since the State has just passed a Complete Streets policy that encourages transportation options.  Personally, I’m less concerned with health factors than the overwhelming financial cost of sprawl.  That aside, my project is just getting off the ground, but it is already getting me out from behind my desk and out on the sidewalks and trails of Southwest Minnesota.  I’ll try to bring you along for the ride (or walk, as it may be).


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