Feature Article - March 2010
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Steps Toward Wellness

Communities & Facilities Take Action to Improve Health

By Dawn Klingensmith

For Health's Sake

Tangible incentives are fun and effective, but the true, lasting benefits of exercise are improved physical and mental health. Aside from building endurance and strengthening the heart and muscles, exercise can:

  • Lower the risk of stroke (aerobic exercise)
  • Lower the risk of heart disease (aerobic)
  • Maintain or improve bone health by increasing density and preventing fractures (weight-bearing aerobic and strength training)
  • Lower the risk of diabetes (moderately active vs. sedentary)
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression
  • Lower blood pressure (aerobic)
  • Reduce pain caused by arthritis (low-impact aerobic and strength training)
  • Improve balance and lower the risk of falls for seniors
  • Lower the risk of cancer (moderately active vs. sedentary)

Offer Incentives

Simplicity and incentives were also core components of two programs launched in the Western region. In Boulder, Colo., the Freiker Program—short for frequent biker—began at an elementary school after founder Rob Nagler could not persuade his kids to ride their bikes to school, less than 1 mile from home. However, when offered small prizes, the kids started pedaling to school and gradually found cycling to be rewarding in its own right. Initially, bike trips were tracked using a punch card system, and then a barcode system. Now, as students pedal up to the bike rack, a solar-powered "Freikometer" (a radio frequency ID tag reader) reads tags placed on their safety helmets. Each bike trip earns points toward a prize. During the 2007-08 academic year, kids at five Boulder schools logged 54,000 rides. In 2008-09, the program rolled out nationally.

In Utah, a nonprofit system of health services providers called Intermountain Healthcare last year partnered with the mayor's office and local businesses to launch the Park Farther program in the Salt Lake City area. The objective is to motivate people to increase their activity level by parking farther away from their destinations. Participating businesses and organizations agree to allow a professional crew paid by Intermountain Healthcare to paint a couple of remote stalls in their parking lots. The painted stalls have the program logo and the message, "Park here to walk farther and be healthier." Aside from improved health, participants could receive rewards from a prize patrol that randomly visits Park Farther locations to hand out iPods, gift cards and other donated items.