The convergence of these two events is no coincidence - while people may think of them as pathways for transportation and recreation, trails are now widely acknowledged to be one of our most effective, inexpensive and proactive public health interventions.
I came to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy with a background in research into epidemic chronic diseases. It turns out that physical activity is a powerful factor in preventing and controlling chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and their risk factors. In combination with a sensible diet, moderate physical activity is even better than expensive drugs at preventing progression from 'pre-diabetes' to frank diabetes. Moderate means 30 minutes a day at a moderate pace. But the 30 minutes don't have to be all at once! You can do two 15 minutes walks and gain the same benefit!
When I saw how effective simple, modest physical activity is for sustaining good health, I began to see the disconnect between our body of knowledge and the way many of our public policies worked counter to that knowledge. We all know a healthy lifestyle of regular moderate physical activity and a sensible diet are needed to maintain health. However there are places where one must drive a car instead of walking or riding a bike, even for the shortest trips, because that's the way we've built our communities. Walking and biking is often essentially prohibited by the design of our built environments. This is having a disastrous impact on our health.
That is why I was attracted to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and its mission to build "Healthier Places for Healthier People." We are on the cutting edge of advocating for transportation policies informed by public health, and it is great to be involved in that work. It was not long ago that the idea of a trails organization employing a public health professional would have seemed odd. Now, it is a key part of what we do.
RTC recently teamed up with several other organizations to form the Partnership for Active Transportation, an amazingly diverse coalition that includes the American Public Health Association (APHA).
During Public Health Week, I will be tweeting and posting facebook messages to introduce RTC's new partners, post fun quizzes and jokes related to health and trails (okay, some of them are gonna be corny...), and to celebrate healthy lifestyles.
Let's see if we can make the healthy message a fun one!