This program was the first activity created as part of the “Pathways to Pinebank Promontory” initiative with the goal to reduce the burden of chronic diseases from obesity. Obesity, which is associated with an increased risk for chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes, has increased dramatically. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1990, no state in the United States had an obesity prevalence greater than 15%; now, no state has a prevalence less than 18% and most states verge on 30-35% of their population living obese. Minority populations are disproportionately affected, with blacks having a 51% higher prevalence and Hispanics having a 21% higher prevalence of obesity compared to whites.
Furthermore, obesity and mental health have an interesting link. Those who are depressed are more likely to become obese, and those who are obese are more likely to become depressed. Those who are obese or overweight are at increased risk for low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction.
Chronic diseases and obesity in the U.S. as well as in the city can be attributed to the lack of exercise and the built environment of which we live. Bad or no sidewalks, broken windows, lack of trees, pollution, and more do not promote going outside to enjoy nature. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables also plays a role.
Based on research, CCI believes that by promoting an active lifestyle and increasing citizens’ contact with nature, we can reduce the impact of chronic diseases. Frederick Law Olmsted, the “father of landscape architecture,” knew that people exposed to open natural areas received health benefits simply by viewing and interacting with vegetation and animals. Following his vision, Walking to Pinebank was designed to raise awareness in citizens about the benefits of nature on health and to instill and/or strengthen the habit of walking for health, as both a leisure activity, form of exercise and mode of transportation.
The Boston Public Health Commission supports local walking groups, providing materials for groups and leaders. CCI received training from BPHC as well as technical support. They distributed pamphlets, pedometers, and nutrition sheets. Two staff members also offered to come to three sessions.
The program was led by community member and exercise instructor Gladys Grullon. Three other walking leaders volunteered to help participants through the walk based on speed. They followed the 1st Pathway: Jackson Square T stop to Pinebank and then around the Pond. After the walk, participants attended educational meetings about the benefits of exercising, the benefits of nature, the benefits of exercising in nature, and the nutrition of various foods. The program ran from April 2010 to June 2010.
Participation ranged each week, with twenty-three participants at the peak, and an average of 14 people per week. 42% of participants reported having asthma and/or diabetes, and 37% had hypertension. Most were over 45 years old, and 98% had a Latino background. 40% of participants reported having poor or less than poor health.
By the end of the program, each participant was walking farther and longer. The exercise instructor noticed people breathing easier and showing improvements. Participants reported feeling more energy and improved strength. One participant said she could not touch her toes before she started walking, and now she could! It was amazing to her that such a little thing could improve so much!
Group members were excited and eager to start another group. This spring, we hope to start several walking groups and add more pathways to our pamphlet, so that more people may join in. CCI will maintain this program and continue to update the results.