Helping Ashlanders and members of surrounding communities become healthier can start with something as easy as walking.
Walking is natural and it can be a great form of exercise, but most Americans walk less than 10 minutes a day, according to Ian Thomas, an America Walks board member and treasurer.
Thomas was in town Friday and today to take part in Ashland’s Walkability Workshop, where about 20 came together to map out a plan to create a more walkable Ashland.
Organized by the City of Ashland, Healthy Choices of Kentucky and America Walks, the workshop was funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the fourth of eight workshops scheduled across the country, and aimed at empowering locals to create a plan to change their communities.
By the end of the weekend, Thomas said, Ashland will have its own strategic plan with goals and time frames.
“We don’t know what that will look like; we’re not bringing it in from the outside. It’s very important that everyone here generates it from the inside,” he said.
Friday’s portion of the workshop included exploring the area’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as a panel discussion. Panelists included Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles, Ashland director of Parks and Recreation Sean Murray, Katherine O’Nan, a junior at Paul G. Blazer High School, and Dr. Andy Gilliland, a sports medicine physician at King’s Daughters Medical Center. Later in the afternoon, the workshop explored what is working in Ashland already, what is not and what other American cities are doing.
Today participants will work to settle on strategies and plan specific actions they can take to move toward a community that’s walkable and has residents who want to walk.
“If we could get people walking just 30 minutes a day, it would have an enormous impact on the obesity situation. It’s shocking most people don’t walk 10 minutes a day,” Thomas said. “It’s not just about personal choices; it’s about the social environment and the physical environment.
“The social, cultural environment is that almost everybody has a car and you take your car from place to place, wherever you go and you always have it with you. People actually feel nervous about leaving their car and not having it very close by. The physical environment is sidewalks, poor-quality sidewalks, fast traffic, not enough crosswalks — a lack of pleasant ambiance for walking.
“All of these things make a difference and can be changed. That’s the purpose of these workshops and the movement all over the country,” Thomas said.
Ashland’s plan will address all these issues.
Changing the culture could be the toughest part, and wiill require leadership, attendees concluded.
“Simply having the resources doesn’t effect change; you have to effect the attitude,” Gilliland said. “Apathy just runs down the entire I-64 corridor. That’s what we have to fix. You have to effect change in apathy.”
He suggested making the issue more personal.
“I inspire people by telling people what I am doing,” said Gilliland, who’s been working for two years to lose weight and change his lifestyle.
“When you talk to them from a position of authority, it just goes right by them. But when you talk to them on an individual basis, it seems to me that they receive the message.”
That strategy and many others are likely to be among those that wind up in the final plan, which will take years to accomplish.
“I think it’s a possibility. I think it’s going to take some work and some dedication,” said Suzanne Smith, a retired public health official. “But I think it’s workable.”
“It’s beginning the process and building on what we’ve already done,” added Geri Willis. “I think the most important thing I’ve learned today is that change has got to start with us. To get buy-in from others, we have to be role models. And not just role models. We have to inspire change.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.