I recently decided that I wanted to become more physically active. At home, I have access to two parks, bike paths, a 24-hour fitness center, and an open space park. At work, I am able to get some fresh air by taking a walk around the block. When it comes to our health and our level of activity, a lot of it can seem like a personal choice, but it’s something I have realized I often take for granted. Physical activity is fundamental to our individual health and the health of our state—but it’s not always up to the individual.
If you live in Colorado, you know that the I-70 corridor heading west to the mountains is going to be slow on most weekends year round, with many people taking advantage of all our lovely state has to offer—camping, hiking, skiing, you name it! Companies have even moved their headquarters to Colorado just so that their employees can be more active. Most of us won’t think twice about going out for a walk, driving up to the mountains, or taking a spin on our bikes. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone in our state. Many people do not have access to places where they can exercise or grocery stores to purchase healthy food. Residents of these communities often find themselves without reliable transportation, struggling to make ends meet, and face safety risks just walking around the block.
Research from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion shows that physical activity is an incredibly important piece of our overall health. As little as 150 minutes a week—or just over 20 minutes per day—of a moderate, intense activity consistently reduces the risk of many chronic diseases and improves mental health across all ages, racial, and ethnic groups. Physical activity can also lower health costs in the state. Research from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows that approximately 2.2 million adults in Colorado are either overweight or obese. This results in medical expenditures that are upwards of $1.6 billion each year, which is a substantial economic cost and significant burden on our health care system and state. So, it’s important we make physical activity accessible to everyone.
Many organizations are working hard to do just that. One of these, LiveWell Colorado, focuses on policy and environmental changes that remove barriers to healthy living opportunities. LiveWell works on local initiatives led by community members, elected officials, and grassroots organizers to address barriers to healthy living that communities identify for themselves. Through their HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign, they have helped many cities to adopt policies and create plans to improve access to healthy eating and active living, including bike paths, recreation centers, safe sidewalks and crosswalks, community gardens, and parks. Since 2013, the Campaign has expanded to more than 40 municipalities across Colorado.
Making healthy personal choices is important, like my choice to stay active, but it’s also important that we recognize the role access to healthy, safe environments in our communities has on our ability to make those choices. So lace up those tennis shoes, and let’s get to work!