Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Over the past 30 years, people of all ages across the globe have become more sedentary, said Richard Louv, author and co-founder of Children and Nature Network. Many factors have contributed to this shift, he said, such as the rise in car ownership, more highways, TV, video games, the internet and computers.
"These days, unplugged places are getting hard to find,” Louv said Thursday at the Movement Makers: National Active Living Summit. “Time spent outside, being active in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout that we feel when we sit in front of a computer screen all day."
Louv and other health and wellness experts discussed steps to address community health issues — including sedentary living — at the three-day summit. The event, presented by Sports Backers and VCU Health, brought together more than 130 experts and leaders from a variety of fields, including bike/pedestrian infrastructure, health equity, workplace wellness and public health.
There is a mountain of research on the benefits of active living, but somehow it doesn’t get implemented, said John Lugbill, executive director of Sports Backers.
“It’s because the active living space crosses over many different departments — parks and recreation, transportation and planning, health and human services — all having to work together,” Lugbill said. “Movement Makers is really about creating intersections between different sectors. We want you to interact and talk with each other and come up with new solutions. We want you to go back to your organizations with a notepad full of ideas and ‘Aha!’ moments.”
Josh Bailey, a volunteer for Healthy Chesapeake, did just that.
“I wanted to gain more knowledge because I’m having a difficult time with funding, planning and organizing aspects of trying to help local lower-income communities,” he said. “I’m so glad I came because I’m getting so many ideas and great resources from organizations like Kaboom and PlayWorld.”
An emphasis on children’s health
The conference covered several topics from numerous speakers. Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D., senior vice president for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, talked about the importance of healthy habits and nutrition during early childhood development, with tips for parents and caregivers to help give children a healthier foundation.
There was a particular emphasis on children and the importance of active play, especially outside in nature, which is on the decline.
Kaboom, a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all kids get a childhood filled with the balanced and active play that they need, held a breakout session focused on the state of play and its decline. Naudy Martinez, senior manager of city engagement, showed examples of Kaboom’s “play everywhere” and “play on the way” philosophy with temporary, moveable play spaces constructed throughout cities in places such as bus stops, train stations and sidewalks to give kids the opportunity for more play.
Louv reiterated the importance of play for children and also the importance of getting outside, playing in the dirt and connecting with nature. He talked about his experience as a child building a tree house and playing in the woods behind his house. Many children, he said, don’t get to experience that today.
“Independent, make-believe play is so important for development,” he said. “It makes kids more independent, able to make decisions and be their own boss. How can we have executive leadership without decision-making skills? Being out in nature gives kids their first sense of wonder in the world. How can we have scientists without a sense of wonder or an ability to explore?”
‘The worst thing for your body is to not use it’
Dominique Dawes, Olympic gold medalist, three-time Olympian and co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition for the Obama administration, rounded out the keynote speakers talking about the importance of living an active lifestyle, having access to nutritional food and taking care of your body and overall health.
“The worst thing for your body is to not use it, to not be physically active,” Dawes said. “When my athletic career was over, I stopped working out and I felt horrible. I wasn’t making the best decisions and I was down and out. It wasn’t until I started working out, using my body again and caring about what I was putting in it that I started feeling better. I always say, before popping a pill, press start on a treadmill.”
The summit aligns with VCU Health’s “Shift for Health” campaign, which encourages employees, patients and community members to make small changes in their day that can lead to big differences in their lives. These small changes include increasing daily physical activity in a variety of ways, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, biking instead of driving or incorporating short stints of physical activity throughout the day.
“It is our privilege and honor to be so involved and to be supportive in this endeavor,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Sports Backers really cares about this community and this is a community that has many people who need a difference made in their lives. The quality of their lives is just as important as the quality of anyone else’s life. We owe this community so much more than what we’ve been able to give them. This is one of the reasons that really drives me to be a key supporter of Movement Makers.”
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