Well, my daughter’s class finished the section on the human body, and though I tried to think of some way to make her current essay on Ovid appropriate for this blog, it appears I am on my own. Fortunately, there has been no shortage of inspiration recently.
Last Thursday, I attended the Back on My Feet Philadelphia Bash. This amazing organization, started by Anne Mahlum, is the embodiment of just how important and powerful physical activity can be as a catalyst for change. The fundraiser, highlighted by men and women in suits, cocktail dresses, and sneakers (looked natural to me) was a celebration of how individuals, currently living in shelters, can use a commitment to physical activity as the first step to getting ‘back on their feet.’
Three mornings per week, a local shelter’s residents, along with ‘non-residents’ (frequently members of the corporate community) meet to walk/run anywhere from one to six miles. The only distinguishing feature among them is who can run the fastest. Individuals sign a contract committing their participation and, over time, those who maintain a 90% attendance rate receive support in obtaining job training, employment, and housing.
At the Bash, we heard amazing stories of people who had struggled with the most horrific of life challenges – from job loss, to substance and physical abuse, to homelessness – and how their initial willingness to commit to a team of people running three days per week was the start of a path to recovery.
The Bash was an interesting end to a week that started with a trip to Birmingham to visit two clients that recently launched the Destination: You program. In a recent article published in Men’s Health, Birmingham was ranked the 10th fattest city in America; at least these two employers aren’t taking the problem sitting down. In both cases (one state government, the other for-profit) the organizations have come to the same conclusion that Anne did: a more physically active population is the first step to improvement.
These two groups are making a financial commitment to improving the health of their populations. But more importantly, they are making a cultural commitment. And that commitment is paying off. In both cases, we are hearing stories of transformation: lunchtime walking clubs, crowded stairwells, and cars parked in the back row of the parking lots. Water-cooler chatter is about how everyone needs to get their steps in so the regional office can out-pace “Corporate.” As one HR manager commented, “It’s truly exciting to see change happening in front of my eyes.”
I came to the end of the week inspired and optimistic. We have known for a long time that a little physical activity – at the individual, organizational, and national level – can make a difference, and I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that truth in action in the most remarkable of ways.