By Julia Wacker, MSW, MPH
Julia Wacker, MSW, MPH is the Director of Community Outreach for the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Duke University. The program focuses on empowering kids and families with the skills and knowledge needed to live a life of healthy eating and active lifestyles.
All too often, it can feel like we are living in an environment that promotes unhealthy lifestyles, and the good choices are hard to find. Our children are constantly bombarded with media messages pushing high-calorie yet nutrient-poor foods. Our schools and workplaces are too far from where we live, and incorporating that one hour of recommended physical activity a day – or even ten minutes – can seem undoable. Yet, despite this, there are programs and resources out there working hard to make living healthier lifestyles easier for the typical American family. And you don’t need an expensive gym membership or time and space to grow all your own vegetables in your backyard. Check out the following resources in your community. All of them are low-cost, free, or offer scholarships for families demonstrating financial need.
YMCAs/ YWCAs are available throughout the United States. Many offer comprehensive wellness programs (aquatics, aerobics, weight training, group fitness, even nutrition) and typically cost less than other private gyms. Most offer family focused programs and/or on-site childcare as well as summer programs for children.
We may take City Parks and Recreation Departments for granted, but they often offer a wealth of great resources to get families active. Most city parks departments offer very low-cost athletic and group fitness programs, as well as specialized programs for youth with disabilities and non-English speakers. In addition to sports programs and wellness classes for all levels, parks departments usually publish maps of local trails, open spaces, and playgrounds.
Boys and Girls Club of America and other youth mentorship programs are another great option to get young people moving. Many of these mentorship programs are now encouraging their young adult volunteer mentors to keep their mentees active for their time spent together. Playing basketball with a respected and admired mentor – what a great way to motivate a young person to be active!
Girls on the Run and Girls on Track is a national character development program for pre-teen girls. Volunteer coaches incorporate physical activity into lesson plans that tackle tough issues for this age group, such as body image, self-esteem, and kindness to yourself and others.
Finally, be sure to check out Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! campaign website at www.letsmove.gov to find up-to-date listings of playgrounds, parks, outdoor events and nutrition resources near you.