Friday, May 19, 2017

Bike to Work Week at ICH

by Carolyn F Fisher, PhD,  Research and Evaluation Project Manager

This week is the Bay State Bike Week, and ICH is participating in the MassCommute Bicycle Challenge on a team together with Cambridge Health Alliance. 

Martina Todaro, ICH RA
Biking taps in to the mission and values of ICH in multiple ways. Exercise we get from biking is an important component of promoting health. Biking, and robust pedestrian and bike infrastructure, promotes social justice and the environmental health of our communities.  And bicycling promotes community development, providing economic and social benefits to local communities. We at ICH are proud to be living our values!

Martina Todaro says she arrives at work in a better mood when she bikes

We’re lucky to be located in the Greater Boston area, where there is a significant amount of bicycle infrastructure, including dedicated bike lanes, and some off-road bike trails. Perhaps most importantly, too, there are lots of other bicyclists on the roads. There is safety in numbers – drivers, seeing one bicyclist, will be more attuned to looking for others, and in general, drivers are not surprised to see bikes on the road.

Exercise and individual health

Cycling to work has the major advantage of building exercise into the start and end of our days. This way, even when our schedules are packed, we are guaranteed to fit in some exercise. And exercise is extremely important to health, as ICH RA Abby Tapper writes. Some even argue that biking, specifically, is good for mental health and for promoting happiness.

Jeff Desmarais says "Even if biking to work didn't make me healthier and shave 15 minutes off my commute, I would still do it. In the morning it helps me get ready for my day and in the evening it helps me unwind."
Jeff Desmarais, ICH PM

Environmental Health and Social Justice
Further, the environmental benefits of biking are important to the communities in which we live. When we bike, we both avoid putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with broad implications for climate change, and also avoid putting ingredients of smog into the air in our local communities. While climate change affects all of us, smog and its negative health impacts such as asthma particularly and disproportionately affect our urban communities which tend to be poorer and lived in by more people of color.
The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center points out that prioritizing bike-ability and walk-ability in planning has important social justice implications.  They write:
“If automobile travel is the only feasible mode of transportation in a community, low-income families are placed at a large disadvantage with very limited mobility. By providing safe and convenient pedestrian and bicycle facilities, the community can ensure that all citizens have access to a viable mode of transportation.”

Carrie Fisher, ICH PM, drops the kids at school before heading to work
Community benefits: Bicycling is good for the economic health of our communities:  building bike infrastructure promotes job creation, and bicycle-related businesses such as bike stores and repair shops are a source of revenue for our communities. There is also evidence that people who bike are more likely to patronize local businesses they pass than people in cars.

In addition to the economic, health and environmental benefits for our communities, there are less tangible benefits for our communities.  Noise will decrease, because bikes are quieter than cars, and the “livability” of the communities will increase. Biking also promotes social interaction more than traveling in cars does.

Abby Tapper, ICH RA, bikes with her dad
Links to biking resources
Boston Bikes is a City of Boston initiative that promotes cycling in the city, and has links to numerous programs including (among many other things) How-Tos for beginning bicyclists, special programs for women bicyclists, and information about Hubway, the Greater Boston bike sharing program (which has $5 annual membership available for low-income residents).
Bike lane and trail maps Google Maps isn’t always the best source for biking map information. Try this map instead!
Hubway is a bike share system in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. You can bike without having to own a bike!
Safety tips  and information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the CDC.

Friday, May 12, 2017

May National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

By Abigail Tapper, MPH, Research Associate

                May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.  While most people are aware that exercise has health benefits, we don’t always realize how many benefits there are, and there are often barriers in the way.  These barriers can be things like lack of transportation, low levels of knowledge, and lack of resources.  Later in this post, we will highlight a program that is addressing such barriers.  Among youth, physical fitness can lead not only to good cardiovascular health, but improved bone and muscle health.[1]  If a child is not physically fit, they are more likely to have high blood pressure, be overweight or obese, and are more likely to have diabetes.  Increases in exercise and other activities can lead to lower rates of depression among young people.[2]

Participation in team sports has numerous benefits as well.  There are the obvious physical benefits as previously outlined and others pertaining to risk-taking and emotional health: for example, studies have found that participation in team sports leads to an older initial sexual intercourse age, lower risky sexual behavior and, especially for adolescent girls, lower cigarette and drug use.[3]  Other studies have found that being part of a sports team leads to improved psychosocial health.[4]

                In adults, higher rates of physical activity have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.  Like in youth, regular physical activity has been shown to lower rates of depressive symptoms in adults.  While exercise may not prevent anxiety and depression, research tells us that it alleviates symptoms of both and the benefits are akin to those received from meditation or other forms of relaxation.[5] Several studies have found that exercise can act as a kind of antidepressant, improving mood and lowering neuroticism.[6],[7],[8]  Other research suggests that when those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol engage in some kind of physical activity in addition to regular substance use treatment, it can act as an “adjunct”, aka a substitute, to the high achieved from those substances. [9]
                For the older population, exercise shows numerous benefits.  Physical fitness can lower the risk for falls in older adults as well as improving cognitive function.  Adults age 65 and above can lower their risk for osteoporosis and other bone health disorders.  Mentally, it improves the feeling of self control and efficacy.[10]  Research goes even further to say that adults who exercise more, especially into their 80s and 90s, can expect to live longer.[11] 
                A program that we would especially like to highlight is one we at ICH have in our proverbial backyard.  Shape Up Somerville is a 15 year old initiative aimed at improving the health of all residents of Somerville, as well as visitors and people who work within the city.  They do this by increasing access to healthy activities and food, engaging high risk, low income and minority participants, and working to affect systemic change in the actual civic structures within Somerville.  Some of the resources they offer are interactive maps of bike routes and walking paths (like those found here and here), and mobile farmers markets that actually meet residents where they are.  These markets come to public spaces and allow residents to shop where and when it’s convenient for them.   They also work with restaurants in the area to promote healthy eating.  They developed a resource guide that outlines several healthy options at area restaurants.  You can look at the guide here.   Since the program’s inception, Somerville has seen a drop in unhealthy snacking among adolescents, a significant increase in the students meeting physical activity goals, and more students reporting that they walk to school.  Read more about Shape Up Somerville here. 
                Another initiative that ICH has worked with is Cambridge Health Alliance’s Wellness Program.  CHA’s Wellness program revolves around 4 pillars: Self-care, rest and recovery, movement and nutrition.  Each pillar is associated with one of the fiscal quarters, so there is always new wellness programming happening.   Each department has their very own wellness champion that staff can go to for advice and resources.  These staff are the ones usually implementing the wellness curriculum as well as keeping staff motivated. 
                ICH worked with CHA to evaluate the success of their wellness program, especially looking at participation rates in the various wellness programs.  ICH then gave this feedback to the CHA Wellness team to use to inform their programs for the next year.  Overall, participants were satisfied with the various wellness initiatives they participated in.  To read more about wellness at CHA, click here.

                 For more resources, check out the CDC’s healthy month toolkit here.
Happy moving!



[3] Kulig, Kimary, Nancy D. Brener, and Tim McManus. "Sexual activity and substance use among adolescents by category of physical activity plus team sports participation." Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 157.9 (2003): 905-912.