The places we live, work and play have significant impacts on our health and happiness. The physical characteristics of our environments can encourage and support an active lifestyle, healthy diet and our involvement in the community, all of which are essential to any successful health and fitness plan.
Over the past century, the design of our physical environments was intended to make life easier and more efficient. Cars and public transportation have replaced sidewalks and bicycles. We can get where we need to go quickly and without too much effort. Huge office complexes with workers sitting in cubicles for long stretches of time have replaced manual labor. Elevators and escalators have replaced stairs, and fast food drive-through windows are often substituted for home cooking. Television, computers, video games and cell phones are now our leisure-time activities. The inactive lifestyles encouraged by our more efficient environments are primary contributors to the obesity crisis in our country.
To reverse the trends of the last century, healthy places are being designed to improve the quality of life in the environments where people live, work, learn and play by providing easy access to a variety of healthy, appealing and affordable options for food, transportation, recreation and social interaction. With careful planning, installations and communities can create places that have positive impacts on the quality of life of the people who live there. Places where daily destinations connect by convenient bike and pedestrian networks, where healthy food options are easily accessible and where the work environment offers opportunities for physical activity can make large strides toward a more active lifestyle.
Healthy places initiatives for the military community include the following:
- Walking and biking paths for transportation and recreation
- Community gardens and farmers markets
- Promoting the use of the stairs as an active daily routine
- Installation bike sharing programs
- Safe routes to school programs, encouraging walking and biking safety
Richard Jackson, former director of the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Environmental Health, explains:
"We must be alert to the health benefits, including less stress, lower blood pressure and overall improved physical and mental health that can result when people live and work in accessible, safe, well-designed, thoughtful structures and landscapes."
The healthy places initiatives encourage and support an active and healthy lifestyle for military service members and their families.
The last 50 years cannot be erased overnight. As we work to gradually change the places we work, live and play, there are things we can all do as individuals and families to make these changes on a personal level. Take a new look at your community. Identify the opportunities to make healthy living changes and encourage those around you to do so as well.