There are a lot of benefits to getting back out on the front porch and sidewalks again. For starters, it helps build a safer, stronger community when neighbors know each other’s names. Developing common bonds with others has been shown to improve health and give people a sense of belonging — especially in the electronic age, when face-to-face communication is dwindling.
It might also help people get into better shape without even realizing it.
Active communities are standing up to one of today’s big challenges — staying healthy in the middle of an obesity epidemic. If you’re seeking inspiration for your own community, here are three robust projects that are easy to duplicate in new locations:
Lace ‘Em Up
The Borgess Run Camp of Kalamazoo, Michigan, started with 100 runners in 2002. The group focused on an atmosphere of positive reinforcement, support, health, and fitness.
The club now has 1,200 runners training at both long distance (marathons and half-marathons) and beginners’ levels. There are 125 volunteers organizing the club, giving it a 10:1 ratio of runners to support person. That means personal attention and encouragement from someone who remembers your name and can facilitate the social engagement which makes runners return for more fun and activity.
Team leaders take attendance, work on weekly schedules, and provide encouragement. Each person participates solely to improve his or her own performance. Runners never run alone and are supported by medical and training personnel.
For those who find exercise meaningless, community gardening offers camaraderie plus moderate aerobic exercise, strength training and improved flexibility.
In Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss is kicking off its second year of a program called LOU on the Move, a weekly community fitness pop-up. The classes, open to students, staff, and community members of all ages (kids included) and fitness levels, have become incredibly popular. Walks, a booty boot camp, aqua aerobics, and yoga are just a few options. Instructors, location, and workout style change every week.
Raising Food and Fitness Levels
Chicago has a community land trust, Chicago NeighborSpace, which purchases vacant land to preserve it for gardens. Detroit Garden Resource Program has a goal of having most of the fruits and vegetables consumed by residents grown within the city limits.
For those who find exercise meaningless, community gardening offers camaraderie along with moderate aerobic exercise, strength training, and improved flexibility. And often, there is a broader purpose. Food grown in community gardens might be divided up among participants, shared with the community, given to programs that serve the homeless, or donated to food banks.
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A 2013 research study from the University of Michigan showed older adults improved their cognitive functioning when they were part of a community gardening project, and had fewer falls as well. Those working in community gardens (even teenagers!) also ate more fruits and vegetables per day than those who did not. Many state and local governments support community gardening, promote it and contribute tools, implements and transportation.
Calling All Underdogs!
Seattle and Portland are thriving with Underdog Sports Leagues, which offers a wide variety of adult co-ed recreational sports leagues. There’s no experience required and fun is the focus. Featured sports include bowling, dodgeball, flag football, kickball, softball, and volleyball. Players can sign up as a team, individual, or small group.
Good nutrition comes along for the ride too — with healthy snacks provided.
Taking the competitive nature out of sports, which is often a barrier for underdogs and less athletic folks, turns a game into a social event held while moving. Similar adult sports leagues are sprouting up around the country and can be found on the Social Sports Network website.
Both the creative founders of these community projects and the many volunteer leaders who run them reap the rewards of getting involved socially, and creating fun ways to get off the couch. In essence, participants just show up and move while getting to know new friends.
Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.