Virginia’s Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation has a mission to be the happiest, healthiest place to live, learn, work and play. This ambitious mission is one that’s being accomplished through numerous interventions led through parks and recreation.
Health in Arlington, especially when it comes to youth, is of particular interest to the department and the county. The department is part of a county-wide initiative called FitArlington which aims to develop a “Culture of Fitness,” and brings together a network of organizations that support the concept of fitness and wellness in the community.
In April, the department pledged with NRPA to Commit to Health in three after-school programs and in two summer camps.
Why Commit to Health
Director Jane Rudolph recognized that Commit to Health fit in perfectly with the mission of the department and the overarching effort to create healthier lives for the community. Two years ago, the department implemented a progressive physical activity policy with guidelines on the amount and type of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity participants are to engage in when attending programs (including summer camps and after-school programs) and encourages the use of outdoor space whenever possible. With this in place, it meant that all parks and recreation programs were meeting each of the five physical activity standards of the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity standards (HEPA) of Commit to Health.
Commit to Health in Action
Since making the Commit to Health pledge, the three after-school sites have held a few different special events to get participants and staff excited about healthy living.
At the salad party a nutrition educator led groups in an interactive cooking activity. Participants helped the Gardening Club harvest different edible mixed greens from the garden, chopped vegetables and learned about the different nutrition benefits of the food. The salad buffet was a great way to celebrate the end of the school year and enjoy healthy, delicious food.
During “Rev Your Bev” day participants were tasked with identifying exercises that would help burn off excess calories from common sugary beverages. Participants received wrist bands, buttons and take-home information cards covering basic health facts around sugary beverages. This program leveraged a state-wide campaign to increase awareness of the health effects of sugar sweetened beverages.
The Color Run furthered the mission of Commit to Health through promoting health, fitness and fun! A color run is an untimed race that showers the runners in colored powder throughout the course. Arlington’s run was 1.5 miles and included a post-run party with a DJ. Not only did the run get people moving and active, the department made sure to provide snacks that met the HEPA standards. They included:
- Whole wheat bagels
- Granola bars
- Fresh fruit
- Popsicles made with 100-percent fruit juice
Commit to Health Moving Forward
Arlington has many of the pieces of the program in place and, to further their reach, is working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation through the NRPA. Arlington is working with the Alliance to make sure that the nutrition education is developed using evidenced-based curricula to comply with the HEPA standards, while still having recreation value. Nutrition Educator Matt Lee and the Alliance’s Ava Young worked together to create an evidence-based activity “How Much Sugar and Silly Water.” Participants have to guess how much sugar is in popular beverages (soda, lemonade, sports drink, etc.) then visually measure out how much sugar is actually in each bottle. Campers will also participate in a blind taste test activity where they will get to sample different healthy, low-sugar waters flavored with fruits, vegetables and herbs then guess the ingredients. This will be paired with a dialogue on healthy ways they can flavor water. At the end of the session each participant will get their own reusable water bottle that they will decorate with fun stickers!
Next month, Arlington County Parks and Recreation will implement Commit to Health in two summer camps.
By showcasing the work being done through the after-school programs, the department hopes to gain support for expanding Commit to Health to other age groups and programs. They plan to gradually add more programs over the course of the next few years.
How are you creating a culture of fitness in your community? What are some ways you are already working to drive healthy living? Leave a comment below or tweet us @NRPA_News #CommitToHealth
Post developed in collaboration with Erica M. Krepp, MS, CHES, community health promotion programmer for the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation.