Can Indiana build a city for wellness? Read any national ranking report of the fittest cities in America and you wouldn’t think so. Indianapolis routinely scores near the bottom when compared to the top 50 metropolitan areas in the country.
Consider also a recent article on the state of obesity in America. While a few places decreased their adult obesity rate (a first in several years) Hoosiers ranked 15th with an alarming 31.3% of our adults meeting the definition of obese. Wellness, it appears, eludes us.
Since nearby Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland outscored us in fitness and boasted healthier populations, four seasons of fair weather mustn’t be a requirement. So what increases a population’s wellness? Three things: investments in infrastructure, organized programs, and accessibility.
Studies continue to show the life-giving and stress-relieving benefits of exercise especially when done in a natural setting. Carmel, Indiana–the place I’ve called home since Dad’s passing–hits it out of the park when it comes to inspiring a healthy lifestyle for residents.
In fact, looking over the 2016 American Fitness Index from The American College of Sports Medicine and then hitting my local trail, you’d think the study got it wrong about the Greater Indianapolis Metropolitan Area. If overall wellness increases when the community has direct access to green spaces, fitness trails, and playgrounds, then any given day on The Monon should serve as a live-action rebuttal to our inertia.
The trail accommodates leisurely strolls, power walkers, mini-marathoners-in-training, and shiny-shirted-cyclists. And, considering the number of near-collisions we’ve experienced and/or witnessed between pedestrians, pooches, and athletes exercising with abandon, I’d say Hoosiers take their workouts (though not trail courtesy) very seriously.
Without question the folks we share the path with buck the AFI’s declaration that Hoosiers don’t get their recommended weekly exercise. I’d also guess that my fellow fitness enthusiasts fall well within the average range for Body Mass Index (BMI); head to toe spandex does not lie, friends.
Of course, Carmel offers more than access to the Monon. The Carmel Parks team, now celebrating 25 years of service, manages 17 green spaces within the township. With more than two parks per square mile and bike lanes criss-crossing the city, recreation opportunities abound. To test this Daniel and I spent a few hours biking to every location listed on a map we’d received. Not only did we get a great workout, but we performed a nonscientific study proving Carmel’s community members needn’t go more than a mile to find a local park.
But infrastructure and accessibility need a third component to create wellness: programming. For those of us self-identified introverts, programming sounds about as fun as a class group project or meet and greet at church. However, programming serves as the front door for connection. And, connection leads to relationships which many folks find vital to maintaining the habits of health. Sure, there are solo ultra-runners out there who need nothing more than a path, but a majority of people enjoy fitness more when cha-cha-ing through Zumba or gasping between burpees with a friend.
Even as a part-time member of the community we received a literal catalog in the mail from the Carmel-Clay Parks and Recreation team. Sixty-four pages of opportunity. That’s what the people who live in Carmel got in the mail. Honestly, if I wasn’t such an introvert….
So what three things can we learn from the city of Carmel about building a life for wellness?
- Invest in the infrastructure. Develop healthy habits early and prioritize them.
- Make wellness accessible by making it easy. Maintain margin in your schedule for you!
- Participate in community programming. Connections enhance both emotional and physical wellness.
What I love and respect most about the city of Carmel is their commitment to build for wellness despite what national statistics say. Like a Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come,” Carmel believed in creating an environment for good health and well-being and just like the movie, from the cornfields the people came to play.