Fitness columns aimed at untrained people generally focus on the easiest things people can do in the short term to develop a healthy lifestyle. I know I’ve devoted a good deal of my space here to that endeavor. Today, however, I want to tackle the big things that we can be doing as a Dayton community to promote healthy living. Understand up front that I’m not claiming what follows would be easy.
1.) Communities designed for health: What would the Dayton area look like if it were designed for health? Consider things like where development dollars go, how transportation is allocated, and whether we are taking full advantage of the potential density (and thus walkability) offered by having a more vibrant downtown. Where, how, and when we choose to build and develop have profound implications on community health.
2.) Healthy schools: I’ve worked a couple of different stints in urban school districts, and the single most important change I would make in education is ensuring that school leaders are held accountable for the health of the children they lead and all that that entails. This would mean a move away from compliance-based disciplinary policies ushered in by the reform movement and toward 360-degree support for the emotional and physical well-being of students. Today if you’re a black secondary student you’re three times (!) more likely to be suspended than your white counterparts. Unless you believe that black children are somehow a worse group of kids than others, this statistic should strike you as profoundly disturbing. Policy created disenfranchised neighborhoods and segregated schools, so we shouldn’t be punishing children when they exhibit the perfectly human and predictable responses to growing up around violence and desolation. Children ought to be moving well, eating well, and managing stress. Yes, they ought to be learning—but think about what you’re like at work when you’ve had a stressful day outside of the office. Now imagine managing stress with the emotions of a child or developing adolescent. Schools ought to reflect this same understanding. More physical education (and art for that matter), longer lunch, more emotional support—and dramatically reduced suspensions and expulsions.
3.) Mindful grocery shopping: One of my wishes for the Dayton area would be for us all to push harder for more information around where our food comes from, how it’s prepared, and how it’s connected to the local economy. I would like to see our grocery stores provide more information about distances traveled for fruits and vegetables, for instance, and the conditions in which livestock have been raised. I would like to see more of us buy local, and I would like to see multiple grocery options in the city’s core. All of these things would allow us to have a stronger, more mindful connection to what we’re putting in our bodies.
4.) Everyone lifts: I spend more time thinking about this than virtually anything else when it comes to fitness. How can we get more people lifting free weights? I was at a local YMCA yesterday, for example, and I was imagining how we could get to the point at which people in their 60s and 70s were taught movement patterns and strength instead of sitting on machines designed for rehabilitation. Picture your local chain gym or YMCA in your head, and now imagine that same facility stripped of all cardio equipment and Nautilus machines. What would go on in such a place?
Seniors learning how to squat, first maybe assisted with a medicine ball, and then maybe unassisted, and then maybe holding a light weight. I’m not talking about teaching grandma the clean and jerk, but how about we at least get her off of that bicep curl machine and onto a gym floor where she can learn how to pick something up safely from the ground? This would be a skill she could use in her actual life. As far as cardio—that’s what walkable communities and green spaces are for! (Icy and cold outside? Let’s take it to the indoor track, or simply make use of all the open space indoors for which we now have room now that we’ve removed expensive machines).
Fitness is a Community Effort
A healthy community is no accident, so I’m hoping the next time you have the opportunity to ask a local leader (including school board members) questions around policy that you’ll do so with fitness and wellness at the forefront of your mind.