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What really makes us healthy?

November 16, 2011

Hospitals, doctors, insurance. That’s the stuff of most of my reporting on health care. But how many of us interact with those entities on a day to day basis? Unless you work in the health care industry, or are very sick/have a sick loved one, the infrastructure built up around our health is mostly invisible, just there to respond when we’re already unhealthy.

We know the things that really make us healthy- exercise, eating right, and getting enough sleep.  If the country’s obesity epidemic is any proof, those very simple acts aren’t so easy to do.

I struggle with this myself. How many days have I worked late and eaten a quick take out meal or gone days without exercise?  Earlier this year, I experienced some running related injuries that really messed up my work-out schedule.

Sometimes changing our habits feels as difficult as moving an ocean liner.

A friend once told me her approach to exercise- you do a little, and then you do a little more.  Making small changes in our lifestyle leads to bigger changes.

This is what I’ve done lately-

  • Set aside Tuesday nights to go swimming
  • Cook a big healthy dinners with enough leftovers for lunch
  • Take a strength class on Thursdays to make me strong enough to run again

When I lived in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence, there was a community pool just around the corner from our house. It was awesome- I’d wake up early twice a week and swim in the summers.  Work was a mile away, so I often rode my bike to the station.  Sometimes our environment makes being healthier easier, like nearby parks or bike-able streets.

That’s the topic of a recent article in Health Affairs.  The authors ask, how can community development make us healthier? The premise is pretty obvious-

There is growing recognition in research and policy circles that good health begins with, and is nurtured and preserved by, the opportunities and resources in the places where we Americans spend most of our time—our homes, schools, communities, workplaces, and other social institutions. Accordingly, community development policies and initiatives, although not traditionally viewed as health policy, can have powerful influences on health.

Can you think of little changes in your neighborhood that might make it easier to make healthy choices? If your community already provides a healthy infrastructure- what are those things that make a difference?  What small acts make it easier for you to be healthy?

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