How many of us made New Year’s resolutions to be more active or get more exercise? That’s great, because one of the best ways to improve health is through physical activity. The key is to find ways to be active all year round and in forms that we enjoy, are meaningful to us, and fit into other important aspects of our lives, such as family.
Research shows that people who live in “active communities” are more physically active because these communities make it easy and safe for anyone to exercise. Active communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/community-strategies/index.htm, make bicycling and walking convenient by having safer sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and protected bicycle lanes.
We are lucky to live in a community that provides us with some of these street amenities. We also have the Green Circle Trail for active recreation and transportation. These resources are slated for more improvements so that even more people in Stevens Point have opportunities for safe, convenient physical activity.
The Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant, submitted in January by the City of Stevens Point with help from the recently formed Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, will expand the number of bicycle lanes in the community.
Since most car trips are less than five miles and the terrain in town is flat, Stevens Point is ideal for bicycling. Building on this foundation, the improvements (detailed in the map below) purposefully make connections between places of work, shopping, schools, and recreation. In addition, the plan helps cyclists avoid busy street crossings and make fewer stops, consequently improving safety and visibility. Residents and visitors will have more transportation options, making it easier to fit physical activity into daily routines.
But is biking to work or the grocery store the kind of exercise that improves health? Yes. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week for the average person, which equates to about 20-25 minutes a day. The same recommendations follow for able adults 65 and older.
According to the CDC, moderate intensity physical activity includes bicycling at a casual pace for most people. This means that simply bicycling to and from work, school, or leisure activities five days a week is enough to experience a myriad of health benefits, including reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, improving mental health and mood, weight control, and the ability to do daily activities.
If the TAP grant is funded, will only bicyclists benefit from the infrastructure improvements? Actually, everyone’s quality of life improves whether they directly use the bicycle lanes or not. Research shows that active communities have less pollution, fewer traffic accidents, and more social interaction and cohesion. These communities are also more attractive for businesses to locate in, creating economic benefits. Car owners who choose to bicycle spend less on gas, and active communities better support those without cars to travel safely and easily. In the end, everyone has more options and opportunities.
Madelin Petz is completing her master’s degree in Community & Organizational Leadership in the School of Health Promotion & Human Development at UWSP. UWSP is a partner of Portage County Can, a coalition of community businesses, organizations and individuals committed to promoting healthy eating and active living in Portage County.