The New Year is the time we make resolutions to focus on our fitness — to start eating a healthier diet, lose weight and go to the gym more often. In D.C., there are many places to do that unless you live east of the river in Wards 7 and 8 where it is not so easy to find a place or a program both convenient and affordable. People in those wards often find themselves living in food deserts and for many reasons don’t participate regularly in fitness or nutrition programs.
The Bowser administration is starting to change that. It recently announced Parks and Recreation fitness centers will now be free to District residents. In addition they recently opened the newly renovated Berry Farm Recreation Center in Ward 8. Another of the positive things the mayor has done is to lead fitness runs in each Ward and the Fresh Start New Year’s Day 5k, which attracted more than 1,000 people this year. But while all these things are great, they are really only a modest beginning and those who participate in one of those runs need a way to follow up and begin a personal long-term program toward better health.
In a recent meeting with Deputy Mayor Courtney Snowden, Dustin Canter, founder of Routeam and I shared some ideas on how the city can help individuals who need not only more access to programs but help in structuring an appropriate personal fitness model and then sticking to a program that will help them to lead healthier lives. This includes everyone from our youngest residents to our senior citizens.
One project the city should focus on is getting the YMCA, which just announced the closing of its facility and the sale of its building on 17th and Rhode Island, N.W., to open a facility east of the river. One possible site would be the St. Elizabeth’s campus near the new planned Wizards training center. As a nonprofit, the YMCA could have a sliding scale of membership rates making it affordable for those in the community to participate in programs there.
We reminded Deputy Mayor Snowden that the administration has another program at its disposal, which it is not making appropriate use of — the Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Nutrition, which by law has on its board all the city agencies that have a role in improving the health of D.C. residents. The Council, along with Serve-DC, could establish a program calling on fitness instructors, nutritionists and other health education specialists to volunteer to work in programs throughout Wards 7 and 8. The goal would be to start teaching children of all ages and adults, including senior citizens, how to live healthier lives. These volunteers could help start or expand classes in public spaces, including recreation centers, libraries, senior citizen centers, and schools while also working toward having programs in every workplace and church. The Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Nutrition could fulfill one of the ideas behind its formation, which was to develop a comprehensive website that would inform residents across the District of the multitude of programs available to them, both public and private.
Canter, who is recognized as one of the top 100 fitness people in 2015 by Active Life DC, has developed an online program, which can be seen at routeam.com providing software services for the private exercise business in yoga, weightlifting, youth sports and more. This program is intended to inform the thousands of people moving into the District each year about opportunities for them to participate in programs that will help them lead healthier lives. He has offered to work with city agencies such as the Department of Health, Agency on Aging, and Parks and Recreation to develop a program that would connect DC residents in Wards 7 and 8 with ongoing exercise and nutrition programs.
To reach more children, it’s important to work through the schools. Currently there are some efforts being made by DCPS and through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and its D.C. chapter. These programs could be expanded into many more classrooms with connections made through the State Office for Education to include students in charter schools.
The Bowser administration has set the laudable goal of improving health outcomes for all D.C. residents. Working with experts like Canter and others who would volunteer time to get programs off the ground will be important if reaching that goal is to become a reality.