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Alexandria named 'Governor's Fit City'

Alexandria is making an extra effort to help residents get into shape - and has now received statewide recognition because of it.

This week, Governor Tim Pawlenty and his health cabinet designated Alexandria as a "Governor's Fit City."

The city earned the recognition by making a commitment to support and encourage its residents to be more physically active and to improve the overall health of the community.

"The leaders of Alexandria have made a strong commitment to provide physical activity opportunities for people in their city," Pawlenty noted in a news release issued Tuesday. "This commitment will help keep Alexandria citizens healthy for years to come."

Alexandria achieved its designation by completing an application with the Minnesota Department of Health.

The application asks cities to indicate their commitment to promoting physical activity, according to several criteria, including:

•Whether a city has created inviting places to walk.

•Whether a city has adopted a value statement affirming the importance of fitness.

•Whether a city has sponsored at least one fitness activity.

•Whether a city has developed recreation areas that encourage fitness.

Alexandria, through its partnership with the Douglas County Active Living program, is committed to implementing a number of strategies for promoting physical activity, including:

•Establishing a process to assess and improve existing local infrastructure to increase physical activity through community design.

•Creating walkable routes to schools.

•Introducing active living issues, such as walkable communities, into public dialogue.

The Douglas County Active Living program, which began about two years ago, wants to make healthy options easier and obvious throughout the county.

The local program received $215,000 in grants through Blue Cross Blue Shield's settlement funds with the tobacco companies for efforts that support physical activities.

The leaders of the program used the first $90,000 in grant money to bring together stakeholders, assess the problems, listen to national experts, have regular monthly meetings and create a work plan.

Now, they're well into the implementation phase.

They're trying to increase the community's "walkability and bikeability," along with increasing recreational opportunities, developing workplace initiatives, building new partnerships, creating safe routes to schools and more.

Just one example: They worked with the Douglas County Historical Society to develop "walk and explore maps" that point out interesting historical tidbits around the community.

The Active Living partnership includes Alexandria School District 206, Alexandria Technical College, Alexandria Light and Power, the city of Alexandria, Douglas County Land and Resource Management, Douglas County Public Health, Douglas County Public Works and West Central Wellness.

Communities that encourage active and healthy lifestyles, according to state health experts, can reap long-term benefits.

"Physical activity improves nearly every aspect of a person's health and contributes to better health overall for communities," Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan said. "We encourage all cities to become Governor's Fit Cities."

Alexandria will receive a plaque from Governor Pawlenty and may also choose to have Governor's Fit City signs placed on roadways entering the city.

The Governor's Fit City initiative is part of an overall push by Pawlenty to encourage fitness.

The governor declared 2005 "The Year of Fitness in Minnesota" and created the Governor's Fitness Challenge. More information about the Governor's Fit City program can be found at www.health.state.mn.us/fitcity.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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