Healthful neighborhoods support healthy lifestyles

Richard C. Bogren, Overstreet, Karen

News Release Distributed 03/11/13

“Are your neighbors healthy?” Karen Overstreet asks.

Creating a healthful neighborhood may be the secret to your own healthy lifestyle, according to the program leader for food and consumer sciences in the LSU AgCenter.

“By now, most of us have long since given up on our New Year’s resolutions to exercise, eat more healthfully or get more organized,” Overstreet said. “However, cultural norms and the same peer pressure that was a problem in junior high may be working against us. Think about it.”

Overstreet said that thinking about the following questions can lead people to reconsider the effects of the things they do:

– What are we selling in the concession stands at our kids’ ball games?

– Do we welcome a new neighbor with a basket of fresh produce or with the richest chocolate cake we can make?

– Do we car pool the three blocks to school or organize a walking group to get there?

– Is the highlight of the office potluck a tasty salad or granny’s famous fried chicken?

None of these things is inherently bad, but over time they can become habits that create an unhealthful lifestyle, Overstreet said.

Overstreet believes a healthy community can provide peer support for more positive behaviors.

“A good place to start is your own neighborhood beginning with your block,” she said, suggesting walking can be a good place to start.

“Is there a safe place for walking or biking?” she asked Many times people aren’t comfortable walking by themselves, but setting a regular time to meet for a group walk can also be a way to get better acquainted with neighbors.

It may start small, but over time the group will likely grow, especially if it looks like you are having fun, she said. Neighbors can work on repairing sidewalks for those who may have difficulty maintaining theirs or organize periodic litter walks to keep them clean. Teens can volunteer to walk with an older adult who may need some assistance even if only going a short distance.

“The idea is to create a culture where an after-dinner walk is the norm and use peer pressure in a positive way as incentive to stick with it,” Overstreet said. “As people become more involved, friendships develop and other activities will likely follow.”

Social interaction is also part of a healthy lifestyle, she said. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own busy lives but never really connect in a meaningful way with others.”

Increasing physical activity whether it’s a neighborhood walk, a pick-up basketball game or group bike ride can provide social interaction as well as physical activity. Friends made through these activities can become part of a supper club that focuses on discovering more healthful ways of preparing foods or a support group when people are going through a rough time.

A community garden or a little friendly competition among neighborhood gardeners can also build community as it provides physical activity and fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Longtime gardeners usually love to share their expertise with novices,” Overstreet said.

She suggested that gardening is a good activity to bridge generations. And a neighborhood tasting using the local produce is another way to create interest for gardening as well as bring people together.

If you’re having a neighborhood crawfish boil, enjoy it. The food and camaraderie are wonderful, and nothing can compare with Louisiana seafood.

“Keep the emphasis on the fun and great food and don’t get caught up in who can eat or drink the most,” she said. “Don’t insist that anyone have another serving or make fun of people who have small piles of shells in front of them.”

Alternating a bottle of water with a bottle of beer will lower the total calorie and carbohydrate counts without changing participation.

“It’s fun to celebrate good friends, good food and a healthy lifestyle,” Overstreet said. “You can be the catalyst that makes it happen in your neighborhood.”

Rick Bogren

3/11/2013 9:10:44 PM
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