I moved from Texas to Arkansas about 20 years ago. At the time I was unhealthy, highly stressed, and overweight. Moving to the Natural State changed that. I had been living a lifestyle which kept me standing in place or sitting at work, sitting in a car for hours a day, and sitting on the couch for hours every night. I knew better, I dreamed of an active lifestyle returning to my youth spent outdoors, playing in the woods and riding bikes everywhere. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one for workouts, training runs, etc. I prefer my workouts as part of my lifestyle.
Shortly after moving here I started hiking up Pinnacle Mountain on a regular basis, not for the exercise, just to be outdoors and enjoy the views. Soon I was exploring all the trails in the park. I started timing myself on particular routes, first walking then slowly adding some running until after a few months I reached the point where I was running for most of my time in the park. I felt better.
Sitting on a couch watching television while living in Texas, I discovered the Eco-Challenge. I dreamed of being able to compete in an adventure race. About a year after moving to Arkansas I made that dream a reality; I bought my first mountain bike and started riding out at Camp Robinson, Allsopp Park, and Burns Park. I entered the Ozark Challenge up on the Mulberry River. Orienteering, trail running, mountain biking and paddling, it was all the stuff I loved. I didn’t train for it so much as I just played outside. I lost count of the number of adventure races I participated in over the next 10 years. On top of that, I competed in triathlons, distance mountain biking events, and canoe races. I was having a blast, and still am.
So how do we rank?
Arkansas has been great for my health just because I’m surrounded by abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. That’s why it’s hard for me to understand why Arkansas ranks so poorly in obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Talk Business and Politics published a story stating, “Arkansas has the fourth most overweight and obese adult populous among all states, according to a new Wallethub survey. The Natural State is only outranked in the survey by Mississippi, West Virginia, and Tennessee.” In the same story, they quote the Center for Disease Control, “Nearly 35% of Arkansans are overweight, and 36% are obese, according to the CDC.”
I recommend the TBP article for suggestions on ways to curb obesity on a personal level, but this is obviously not an individual problem. We don’t really need to get in our cars and drive to a gym or workout facility unless that’s the type of workout you want to do. What we really need is a community that is welcoming to citizens being more active in their daily lives including streets that are safe to walk and bike for both recreation and transportation. We need city planning that connects parks, residential areas, business districts, shopping, medical care and entertainment areas by safe paths that allow us to move about the city.
Many cities in Arkansas are working to pass complete streets ordinances that move them in the right direction. There is much work to be done, but we are getting closer. While complete streets programs are often considered an exercise in city engineering, the results can have lasting effects on the health of our cities and our citizens. It seems the Arkansas Department of Health is taking that to heart. Here is their 2014 data on obesity in Arkansas. Below is their new video promoting complete streets in Arkansas towns and cities.
There is really no reason not to embrace all that Arkansas has to offer. Trails, lakes, rivers, mountains, paved and gravel roads, beautiful cities and towns that are best viewed on a walk or bike ride, it’s all out there for you. Improving our health starts in our own heads but our local governments can help us with this by improving and expanding local parks, creating safe walking and biking routes that connect our residential areas with our work, shopping, medical care, schooling, etc. This needs to happen throughout our towns and communities, not just the in the middle and upper-class areas but also in lower economic areas where residents need safe transportation alternatives. Let your city, county and state leaders know that you want healthy communities, places that young people want to live in, and places that attract new employers.
Now go take a walk to the store, restaurant or to work. You’ll feel better.