Leveling the Playing Field

Leveling the Playing Field

by Amanda Paluch, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Northwestern

I recently had the privilege of enjoying a wonderful Cleveland and Akron amenity – the Cuyahoga Valley National Park ‘Bike Aboard!’ program.  We biked south down the Ohio and Erie Canal Way, and for $3 jumped on a train back north.  My companions and I were ready to refuel from our journey and could not have been more delighted to get off the train directly at a local favorite restaurant, able to enjoy what seemed like the best wings and beer we ever had.  This day represents an opportunity of how cities can provide a high quality and balanced life to their residents.

Urban life provides diversity. It is a primary driver of what attracts people to the city.  We have an abundance of food and entertainment right at our fingertips.  This ranges from active to sedentary activities, and wholesome meals to not-so-nutritious meals – each have their place in enjoying all that cities and life have to offer.  However, cities must start leveling the playing field.

Living in Energy Imbalance

Much of what most cities provide tends to put us in an energy imbalance.  Energy balance is the term used to understand how consuming and burning calories influences our weight and overall health.  Over the past four decades, Americans have spent too little time in motion while consuming way too many calories than our inactive lives actually require.  This has led to the serious obesity epidemic we are in.  With obesity linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, mood disorders, osteoarthritis and many other chronic conditions, addressing energy imbalance is a public health issue that cities cannot ignore.
However, staying in energy balance should not be seen as a chore.  It is a way to ensure a high quality of life.  Each of us has the incredible gift of utilizing motion for enjoyment and rewarding our efforts with a mouthwatering meal and a little time to put our feet up.  I believe we are meant to enjoy both the energy expenditure and intake our bodies are physiologically programmed for.

Leveling the Playing Field_2If you have ever been exposed to young children for more than a few hours, you may have noticed they are constantly stirring.  As children, we are born with an innate desire to move, and enjoy every bouncy minute of it.   Then our desk, car, and sofa culture and environment quickly transition us into motionless beings.

Cities Taking Action

Cities have the unique ability to reverse this inactive cultural and environmental trend in a way that places us back into a lively balance.

Thousands of business meetings happen each day within city limits.  We could be increasing productivity by encouraging walking meetings around clean, tree-lined streets or parks.

That late night deep dish pizza is that much better after busting some moves at a music festival.

We all love supporting our local baseball team, standing up only to get a hotdog with Stadium Mustard and for the seventh inning stretch.  We may be a little more justified complaining about the umps calls if we try out our own pitching arm at a nearby park before the game.

Leveling the Playing Field_3That amazing five course meal feels well-deserved after competing in a running/walking event, kayak race on the river, or city-wide corporate basketball tournament.  Not to mention the city’s economic impact of bringing in such events!

Deep in our reverberating gut, tingling legs, deep-breathing lungs, and beating heart we crave to enjoy life through movement.  When cities provide assets such as walkable and bike-friendly streets, multiuse neighborhoods, welcoming parks, and active events, it is the first step to getting us more engaged in urban life, and a much healthier, thriving community.

So, here is to continued success for the city square diner that makes the best chocolate milkshakes.  But, please give use the opportunity to walk, skip, and bike there as well!

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