Top 12 Tips for a Fit-Friendly City

I recently got back from a great hour-and-a-half run along the beautiful trails winding along the southern waterways of Stockholm. As I was running, I was thinking about how we can convert ”fat- friendly” or ”disease-friendly” cities and towns into ”fit-friendly” or ”health-friendly” cities and towns. As I was running I met many people exercising and enjoying the wonderful outdoors. I  met many runners and power walkers creating greater health and enjoying the beautiful surrounding nature. I  saw swimmers and kayakers alike breaking the sunlit still morning waters. I saw roller bladers, dog walkers, skateboarders, bicyclists all enjoying a wonderful summer day in a fit friendly area of Stockholm.  In most places in Stockholm you are within a 5-10 minutes walk from paths in parks, wild natural environments, or along the water.  It is not so difficult since Stockholm is built on 13 islands and the nature-loving Swedes put pressure on their city planners and political parties to create lots of parks, walk ways, bicycle paths, city beaches, and strict city environmental laws that ensure that all surrounding lakes and waterways are clean and swim friendly.

Even though I would like cities and towns here in Sweden to have even stronger environmental and pro-active health building and fitness policies, I am thankful anyway for what we do have. I have been counseling people on lifestyle and nutritional medicine now for over 35 years and one of the greatest challenges I see to personalized lifestyle medicine is that there is so much in our community planning, physical environment, home environment, work environment, family and social environment that creates barriers instead of inspiration and opportunities to health and fitness.  I have inspired many people to make positive lifestyle changes through the years only to see many of them fail, give up, or only achieve mediocre results due to the opposing pressures of their family, friends, or surrounding culture.  We have all read stories showing the importance of your community, your family, and your ”tribe” in empowering you to make positive changes.  Making new connections and a new network of fitness and health-conscious people rubs off on you and makes it much easier for you to attain or maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Not everyone is a type A ”go getter” that will buck all the winds of opposition in order to live a clean, healthy life.  On top of this, you often have a low health consciousness, food addictions, comfort eating or denial in a huge portion of the population. As superbly illustrated in the documentary, ”Supersize Me,”  we are all heavily influenced from childhood on up by commercial interests that are sending subliminal and audible messages thousands of times a day through films, TV shows,social media,  billboards, ads, officials, ”health care” authorities, etc that eating moderate amounts of sodas and junk foods is OK and that a minimal amount of movement and exercise is OK.  The message sent is also often that the true solutions to health problems are coming right around the corner if only we invest more research monies into vaccines and drugs. ”When eating and exercise fail, reach for the drugs and call your doctor for a prescription” and that ”Food choices, cleaning the body and environment from toxins, and natural methods of healing are anemic and don´t stack up to the wonders of drugs and surgery.” This messagening is being constantly communicated to the populace and influencing their thoughts and actions. We are definitely thankful for the power of drugs and surgeries to save millions of lives a year but more and more of us also want them to be the last resort, not the first.  The power of lifestyle medicine and natural therapeutics unlocks the great intrinsic healing potential that is hardwired in your body and has made us, as a species, incredibly resilient and able to survive major challenges through the ages.

Not only do we need to inspire ourselves and our fellow human beings to be pro-active in terms of creating a lush garden of health that minimizes the growth of chronic diseases but we also need to be pro-active in inspiring and putting pressue on government and commercial interests to all work for making ”fit-friendly” instead of ”fat-friendly” cities and towns.

Exercising regularly in Stockholm and recently visiting one of the more fit-friendly cities in the U.S. , Austin, Texas, I have made a top 12 list that is something to discuss, modify, and work for in order to help people make positive lifestyle changes and keep them for the rest of their lives.

Peter´s Top 12 qualities of a ”fit-friendly” city, town or community:

  1. Clean and accessable lakes, rivers, parks, forests, and other natural environments that are a major emphasis in community and city planning. ”Nature Deficiency Syndrome” is a growing problem amoung the young and the old, as more and more people lose their connection to natural and healthy environments. A virtual world will never be able to replace experiencing natural environments.
  2. Community lots with plenty of land and housing that is conducive to private and community gardens. Legislation that is conducive to and encourages urban gardening and edible landscapes.
  3. Walking and bicycling paths that make it fairly easy to get around without cars in your local community.  Many cities in Europe have bicyles available for hire near most of the subway stations, so that taking the subway and then walking or biking will get you almost anywhere you need to go.
  4. Building guidelines and codes that transition to building more healthy buildings, housing, and environments. Transitioning to cleaner building materials, glues, carpets, drapery, cleaning solutions and more environmentally friendly energy sources and better ventilation systems. Stricter codes to protect people from mold infestation and other building hazards.
  5. More gyms, yoga studios, activity centers, lifestyle counselors, health food stores, and natural, integrative or functional medicine centers being built. It would be great if the health promoting businesses and facilities in the future far outnumber the traditional sick care medical centers and hospitals. The more that companies, the community and people spend on their health care, the less they and the insurance companies or government will need to spend on sick care or acute care.
  6. Easy access to natural food stores, farmers markets, and organic natural foods. Labeling of adulterated foods and GMOs is very important for freedom of health and freedom of choice. An ever increasing presence of natural foods in conventional grocery stores and an expanding demand for more natural supermarkets will help bring about a health revolution.
  7. An increasing and growing amount of healthy food eating places, smoothie bars, salad bars etc in relationship to fast food or poor food eating places.  A healthy eating place should be easily accessible because of the consciousness and support of a strong group of health promoting citizens.
  8. Clean air initiatives that build cities, towns, and communities that have good, low cost, and efficient public transportation and clean fuel or electrical vehicles. Community transportation planning that assures the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists to a clean environment and minimal congestion.
  9. Incentives and a commercial environment that rewards companies for fitness and health programs.  Tax breaks,  tax write offs, contests or other incentives for employees who use gyms, get regular massage, use pedometers,  go to yoga studios, and use lifestyle or diet counseling has proven time and time again to be a wise investment for the health and productivity of workers and the company as a whole. To have healthy and fit employees is better for the working environment, productivity, and the bottom line. Companies here in Sweden that invest in the health of their employees have a more productive work force, with minimal amounts of sick days and absenteeism.
  10. Cooperation between the health promoting community and sick care community.  Integrative clinics and community programs that have, for instance, stop smoking campaigns and weight control programs that can be supported by all health care and sick care professionals. Finding and facilitating cooperation instead of competition is great for all concerned. It is truly a win-win. More health education, physical activity in public and private schools is important to keep the kids active and healthy.  Healthy foods in schools, care centers, and hospitals is also a great investment.
  11. Sponsored events like bicycle races, marathons, 10Ks, 5ks, ski races, walkathons, hikes, etc that create involvement, excitement and income for the community and at the same time, raise the health consciousness.  These events often cause many more young people to want to train and compete.
  12. Encouraging volunteerism and community services that inspire and make available activities and sports for the young people.  Group sports with Little Leagues, etc. can be a great way to help activate the young people to play and exercise more.

What do you think about my list? Do you know of programs or suggestions for creating a more ”fit-friendly” community ? Can we get people, businesses, politicians, organizations and other key players to work together for a common goal?

One Comment On “Top 12 Tips for a Fit-Friendly City”

  1. Peter,
    Thank you for your broad and forward thinking!
    I am currently teaching wellness classes for the City of Ventura, California. It is a great feeling to be involved in creating a healthier community!
    Kris 🙂

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