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Enhancing area communities with walking and biking routs

People are realizing that in order to have healthy communities, areas have to be built and maintained in ways that promote walking, biking and other forms of physical activity. Increased levels of biking and walking would result in significant be...

People are realizing that in order to have healthy communities, areas have to be built and maintained in ways that promote walking, biking and other forms of physical activity. Increased levels of biking and walking would result in significant benefits in terms of health and physical fitness, the environment, and transportation-related effects.

With a focus on improving and enhancing walking and biking in west central Minnesota, a Mobile Communities Workshop was held on February 16 in Elbow Lake. The workshop highlighted ways in which land use and transportation decisions affect walking, biking, physical activity and livability.

The workshop was led by Jessica Peterson, Active Living Douglas County; Tim Schoonhoven, city of Alexandria engineer; and Scott Dietz, bike enthusiast. Participants were a part of a walking audit to teach from the perspective of a pedestrian. Missing bits of sidewalk, utility poles or curb ramps that seemed insignificant become big issues when you're out there on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair.

"Years ago, communities were designed almost solely to accommodate vehicle traffic," said Jessica Peterson, Active Living Douglas County/Douglas County Public Health. "We now realize the personal and community benefits of walking and cycling. They really are the most accessible forms of physical activity for most people."

Research has shown that even low to moderate levels of exercise, such as regular bicycling or walking, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other chronic diseases; help to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life at every stage.

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To complement the workshop, six pilot sites have been awarded funding in the counties of Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Grant to create safe walking and biking routes, maps and signage.

The efforts of the Mobile Workshop and the safe routes project are made possible by West Central Wellness, a local initiative that has received funding from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) of the Minnesota Department of Health.

One of SHIP's goals is to increase physical activity to prevent the health problems associated with an inactive lifestyle by creating communities that support healthy choices. For information, visit the website, www.westcentralwellness.org .

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