Town, School Health Officials Want Newtown To Start Walking

Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert and a small group of town employees laced up their sneakers April 2 to take a brisk spin around the Fairfield Hills to mark National Start Walking Day.

Since statistics show that one in two men and one in three women are at risk for heart disease, and research shows that poor lifestyle is a major contributor, Ms Culbert wanted to help her colleagues improve or maintain their good health by factoring in a daily or even occasional walk into their workdays.

On April 2 as in years past, Ms Culbert encouraged her fellow town employees to take at least 30 minutes to get up and walk. At the same time, school district Health Coordinator Judy Blanchard, who also participated April 2, was thinking about a recent letter she read in The Newtown Bee.

That letter, from resident Tracy Van Buskirk, made note of a group of parents she passes each day on her way to work, who wait at their children’s bus stop each morning with their children inside their idling vehicles.

“What I think is that there are about four things wrong with that picture,” Ms Van Buskirk wrote.

She pointed out that for the families she passes who live on a short cul de sac, it is a short walk to the bus stop; that parents are setting an example for their children that it is ok to drive one tenth of a mile instead of using their feet; that the idling SUVs are expelling unnecessary exhaust into the air and using up $4 a gallon fuel; and perhaps most importantly, the children are being denied a valuable social opportunity to interact with friends.

Ms Van Buskirk even referenced a recent article in Atlantic magazine (“The Overprotected Kid,” by Hanna Rosin, March 19, 2014) that pointed out children today are never out of sight of an adult because of a preoccupation with safety that may be robbing children of an opportunity to develop independence and a sense of discovery.

“Here is a small step you can take to give some of that back,” she added. “Let the kids walk to the bus stop by themselves.”

Ms Blanchard and the Newtown Public Schools Wellness Committee took Ms Van Buskirk’s suggestion to heart, literally, and decided to reactivate an initiative they launched a few years ago called “Walk to the Stop.”

According to kidshealth.org, most children are naturally physically active and love to move around. But parents and caregivers might not realize that even walking short distances can go a long way toward a lifetime of being active.

“By modeling healthy behavior, parents can instill a love of activity and help kids fit exercise into their everyday routines,” Ms Blanchard wrote. “Walking to the bus stop when safety and weather permit has many benefits: it models responsible behavior that will increase exercise, reduce gas waste from idling cars, reduce exhaust pollution, encourage positive social skills with others, and start and end the school day with a stress-relieving burst of exercise and fresh air.”

With spring weather nearly upon the community, Ms Blanchard and the Wellness Committee are calling on all student households, where appropriate or permissible, to put their best foot forward and “Walk to the Stop for the health of it!”

The American Heart Association’s “My Heart. My Life.” healthy living initiative is also available to help individuals and families understand how to get active and eat healthy — all part of the American Heart Association’s 2020 goal.

Visit MyHeartMyLife.org to learn more.

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