Belly Dancing. Tennis. Yoga. Cycling. Freshwater swimming. Kickboxing. Bowling.
The list of free or inexpensive methods to stay fit and healthy in Kent County are copious, and the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce wants residents to know about all of them, as Kent County is tied with Providence County for the highest rate of adult obesity in Rhode Island at 27 percent. It also has a high rate of physical inactivity among adults, which is listed at 26 percent. The national benchmark for obesity is 25 percent, and 21 percent for physical inactivity.
The information was gathered from a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population of Health Institute earlier this year. Data relating to public health was nationally collected, with reports being sent to counties throughout the country.
But the findings weren’t all grim. Interestingly enough, Kent County was ranked first in the state for healthy environmental factors and has the highest ratio of recreational facilities to adult population in the Ocean State.
That’s why the chamber recently created “Live - Shop - Play,” a website designed specifically for people in Kent County that provides a list of resources available for residents to use as a means to improve their health. It was made possible via a $4,900 grant from the University of Wisconsin Population of Health Institute.
Locations listed include Vital Spark Fitness and Wellness Studio, the YMCA, Curves, HealthTrax, Laid-back Fitness, McDermott Pool, as well as beaches and ponds and walking and cycling paths. Schools with tracks and other athletic amenities are on the list, as are sporting facilities.
“The fact that Kent County was ranked as being first in the state for health environment gives it a lot of potential,” said Dr. Robert Marshall, PhD, a clinical associate professor of public health at Brown University and the former assistant director of health at the Rhode Island Department of Health. “By connecting people with those resources, the Chamber of Commerce is playing a role in supporting and improving health behaviors among the population.”
Marshall, a Barrington resident, said obesity is on the rise throughout the country. Some of the major challenges that public health faces in the United States are related to health behaviors, which the data is showing.
Along with Dr. Pat Nolan, PhD, Marshall made a brief presentation and fielded questions from guests about obesity in July at the New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich during an event organized by the chamber. Together, they looked at the findings to get a discussion going about how to change the situation.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, representatives from West Warwick, East Greenwich and Coventry and health care officials from around the state were among at least 30 people in attendance. Guests included members of the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, Citizens Bank, Unique Fitness, West Shore Health Center, Holistic Health Rhode Island and more.
Marshall said that health issues linked to obesity include diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other risks. He also pointed out that many behavioral practices have to do with social factors in the county, including age, occupation, family size, income and more.
But the fact that there are multitudes of places in Kent County for people to stay in shape, said Marshall, is something to take advantage of. Aside from gyms, fitness centers and athletic fields there are walking groups and running clubs available for residents to join.
“When people make the decision to do something about their health, this is the place to do it,” he said. “People can ask themselves, ‘What would I be interested in doing to improve my physical activity or to improve my eating?’ It allows a person to find a resource in their own community that will help them improve their health behaviors. A site like this will help. They’re very fortunate to have it.”
So, what’s Marshall’s favorite form of exercising? For him, that’s an easy question.
“The thing I love best is bicycle riding,” he said. “I’ve had a track bike for decades and I use a bike path we have over by the East Bay regularly. It’s a wonderful experience and it’s amazing at how many [counties] have bike trails. I recently found out they have one in Olneyville in Providence and it goes on for miles and miles.”
To view the list, visit the Chamber website at www.centralrichamber.com and click “Read More” under “Live - Shop - Play.” From there, each category will have links to a variety of local places and groups to visit or join. Not all the links are active, as the site is in the process of being updated.
“The Rhode Island Chamber has taken a real leadership role,” Marshall said. “They are getting the conversation going and working with all those parties to do things that will help the people in Kent County improve their health status.”
Improving health status also improves economic development. Marshall cited a conversation he recently had with a businessman who told him companies are interested in investing in communities that produce healthy populations.
“If people want to invest in our community, we want them to look at us and say, ‘This is a great, healthy, vibrant community with an infrastructure that supports healthy living,’” said Marshall. “They want the health of the community to reflect their potential for investment and economic development.”
And while life is often busy, there are ways to weave in exercise to daily schedules, such as walking children to and from bus stops, walking to work, taking a stroll during lunch breaks, or parking as far as possible from entrances to destinations. Here’s one more idea: take the family pet for a walk.
“These [high rates] are things that we can change, both as individuals, families and communities,” Marshall said. “The whole community needs to be involved, from schools and churches, to social groups and clubs. That’s the way this is going to come together and make a difference.”
Lauren Slocum, president and CEO of the Chamber, agrees. She’s pleased that they’ve found a way to motivate the community to be more active.
“It’s exciting to see people getting involved, and there is so much to be done,” she said. “We look forward to seeing more people being involved in the project and we’re continuing to add people to the list.”
To make a suggestion contact the Chamber at 732-1100.