Walkable communities; Family fun and pedometers
October 2007
Shape Up America! Newsletter


Walk Score™…How Walkable is Your Community?
by Cathy Costakis, MS
The benefits of regular physical activity for our health and well-being are well documented. Over the past 50 years, however, our increased dependence on the automobile, coupled with the invention of many labor-saving devices, has caused physical activity to be engineered out of our lives. It is now possible to go through an entire day without walking more than a few minutes at a time. Suburban sprawl encourages more driving, more polluting and fewer human-powered transportation options, thus creating less active environments for people to live, work and play.

A movement is growing across the country to create more walkable communities that support "active living" — places where children and adults can safely walk to school and work and where other destinations such as shops, restaurants and parks are close to home. Many studies support the association between certain features of the built environment and physical activity. These features include the number, proximity and diversity of destinations; the density of residential and employment areas; the connectivity, accessibility and safety of sidewalks and trails; the aesthetics (how pleasing the environment is for walking); and the accessibility of parks and open spaces.1

Many tools exist to assess environments for their "walkability." One such tool is called Walk Score™. You simply type in the address of the location you want to score and, in seconds, Walk Score calculates the walkability of the address.

Walk Score:

  • computes the distance to walkable locations near an address
  • calculates a score for each location
  • combines these scores into one easy-to-read Walk Score2

Although this scoring system has significant value in determining the number, proximity, and diversity of destinations to your particular location, it lacks the ability to include other important characteristics of a walkable neighborhood (e.g., safety, accessibility, topography). The developers of Walk Score readily admit the tool's limitations and point out how it doesn't work on their Web site.

Nonetheless, I found this tool to be a fun and easy way to find out part of the walkability story. Now that you know some of the variables that determine the walkablity of your location, you will just have to go out and get some of that good ol' physical activity to get the rest of the story!

Good community design supportive of active lifestyles, for recreation and active transportation, is just one of the many public health strategies that are needed to promote healthier lifestyles at the population level. Encouragement and incentives are also needed because the "build it and they will come" strategy is not enough. Too many things in our environment conspire to make the healthful choice the most difficult choice. If we are to make any headway toward improving the health of the nation, we will need to touch people at multiple levels (i.e., individual, family, community) and support them with policy and environmental changes that make healthful eating and active living the social and cultural norms of the future.

Cathy Costakis, MS, is the physical activity coordinator for the Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity (NAPA) program. NAPA is a statewide program funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and located at Montana State University-Bozeman. NAPA aims to improve the health of all Montanans through policy and environmental change and statewide/community interventions focusing on nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding and caloric balance.

Counting Steps for Fun
by Francesca Zavacky
As you plan fall excursions for your family, make regular physical activity a high priority. In honor of October International Walk to School Month, consider the value of using pedometers to make your adventures interesting, educational and personally motivating.

Today's pedometers are very user friendly, small and inconspicuous, and can serve as a wonderful motivator for accumulating some of the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended for children by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) . Pedometers are readily available at local sporting good stores, outdoor outfitters and online on pedometer Web sites such as Walk4Life and New Lifestyles, both companies that specialize in user friendly pedometers that are reasonably accurate and durable. Walk4Life also has WalkSmart!® an innovative, web-based walking program that is a fun way to increase your family's daily physical activity.

It's important that everyone wears a pedometer correctly. Firmly clip the pedometer to a belt or waistband on your clothing, preferably in line with the center of your knee. Keep it vertical and snug; if it tilts to one side or the other or bounces around, it will not count your steps accurately. You may want to secure it with a safety pin or use the security strap that comes with it and loop it through a belt loop to keep the pedometer in place. If excess abdominal fat causes the pedometer to angle, try placing it at the side of the hip or slightly below the waist. Also make sure the pedometer is closed.

Often, simple is best. Start by purchasing a pedometer that just counts steps and operates with a simple reset button. Look for a pedometer with an easy-to-read digital display.

Once you have outfitted your family with pedometers, it's time to head out on your grand adventure. Ideas for using them are only limited by your imagination. For example:

  • Heading off to a corn maze? Guess how many steps or miles it might take to navigate your way in and out of the maze.
  • Off to a museum, a zoo or battlefield? How many steps can the kids achieve versus the adults?
  • Going to the orchard to pick apples? Planning a trip to the pumpkin patch? Guess in advance who will do the most walking and compete to see who wins.
  • Walking the dog? Doing this several times a day is a guaranteed way to add steps.
Individual challenges to achieve the most steps can be a great way to get your kids on the move and interested in staying on the go.

If you have younger children, try a collective exercise challenge. Set a family goal, let's say 35,000 steps, and challenge the entire family to accumulate those steps throughout the day. Check the pedometer occasionally to view your progress, using math skills to mentally add the rapidly rising number of steps. These strategies can be used when you visit an amusement park, go out for a nature hike, or even when you venture out to the grocery store or spend time shopping at the local mall.

Once you and your family begin to examine your walking habits, you may be surprised at how few or how many steps you accumulate during some very routine activities. Walking around is guaranteed never to be the same again!

Here are some suggestions that provide everyone with exercise, enjoyment and time together:

  • Walk or bike to school, lessons, practices and stores, when possible.
  • Spend time outside playing actively.
  • Provide plenty of positive feedback when your kids are physically active. Find activities that match their skill level and interests, foster confidence and provide opportunities for success every time.
  • Realize that teens may be interested in a more formal exercise program such as group classes, personal training or a gym environment that is supportive and nonintimidating.
  • Motivate teens with immediate rewards for being physically active. Involve them in setting goals for regular activity. Then identify incentives, such as movie tickets, music, clothing or extra privileges, for meeting their goals.
  • Motivate children and teens to increase their daily physical activity by using pedometers. If your family has been fairly inactive, pedometers may be a good starting point. Web sites such as Walk4Life and America's Walking promote pedometer use and offer kits and products to get families started.
  • Kids who love video games, the Web and other electronic media may be interested in active games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Web sites such as Kidnetic, the VERB™ campaign and BAM!™ Body and Mind.

Francesca Zavacky is Senior Manager of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Get Moving…Be Happy!
Another important study documenting the power of exercise has just been published. A small but very well designed (prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled) study compared aerobic exercise to standard antidepressant medication and found that exercise performed just as well as the drug in alleviating depression.1

Individuals in all groups met objective criteria for major depression. There were two exercise groups that received the same exercise prescription of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week, but one group participated in supervised group exercise at each session and the other group was expected to exercise at home. There was a drug treatment group, as well as a placebo-control group. In all four groups, depression was alleviated, and in each group a percentage went into remission: supervised exercise — 45%; home exercise — 40%; drug treatment — 47%; and placebo group — 31%. Since certain antidepressant medications are known to cause weight gain, the fact that exercise performed as well as the drug treatment in reducing depression is noteworthy.

My Story
Christina found that being mindful of her eating and committed to exercise pays off. Her positive attitude and perseverance are helping her become a healthier, happier person.

This story is personal to me, to you, to us. It is not a tale of the magical event I did to arrive where I am today, but rather a tale of how I applied my mind, body, and whole self to the act of becoming not just fit, but healthy. It is my hope that as you all read this, by the end you, yourself, will feel ready to face the challenges that will await you in the course of your journey to becoming a healthier person. This is my story.

I remember the meeting when I stepped on the scale and saw 219½ pounds! Being only 4 feet 11 inches tall, I wanted to cry! Driving to my home in Anchorage, I could feel the anger welling up in me, knowing that the time had come to lose the weight and this time for good. I began reading all kinds of diets and books, frustrated at their limitations on the items of food which could and could not be eaten. I began to look at them from a more analytical point. What were the things that each diet had in common?

I already knew that in order to lose weight you must reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day, exercise at least 30 minutes for three times a week, and drink plenty of water. Pondering those components I made my mind up not to diet, but to use the principle of cutting calories, to burn more than you are consuming. I started to exercise slowly walking the coastal trail EVERY DAY for 21 days, because it takes 21 days to make a habit. After those first 21 days, I added a workout program called "Slim in 6." At first, I used the first video program, which was 25 minutes, three times a week. As this routine got easier, I began adding more to my workouts and working out longer. For the first seven months the weight came off slowly and I was satisfied, but becoming angry that I still was not yet under 200, I knew it was going to take more than exercise.

Not wanting to give up the idea of eating whatever I wanted, I learned the true value of a quote I keep with me now from the Roman lyric poet Horace, "Rule your mind or it will rule you." You may ask how this applies to weight loss: when there are foods you like, it is not about not eating them or deeming them bad but learning to control the cravings and when to give in. Read More…

If you would like to share your personal success story and be an inspiration to others who desire to lose weight, simply use our story submission system on the SUA Web site.

Recipe of the Month
Run a fork across the flesh of cooked spaghetti squash and you'll see that it resembles strands of spaghetti. Try this squash as a lower-calorie, lower-carbohydrate substitute for spaghetti.
Makes 4 entrée-sized servings


  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 2 Tbsp. chunky peanut butter
  • ¼ cup fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • Pinch of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced scallions, trimmed for garnish
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (optional)


  1. Pierce the spaghetti squash generously with a knife to prevent it from exploding. Place the squash on a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high until tender when pressed with your fingers or pierced with a thin skewer, about 15 minutes.
  2. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting the squash. When cool, halve the squash and remove the seeds. Scrape the flesh with a fork, collecting the "spaghetti" strands in a medium-sized bowl. Separate the strands using a fork or your fingers.
  3. In a blender or food processor, mix the peanut butter, broth, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil and red pepper flakes until completely blended. Add the peanut sauce to the separated, cooked spaghetti squash. Toss to coat.
  4. Garnish with scallions and peanuts, if desired. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 130 calories, 7 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams protein, 4 grams dietary fiber, 200 milligrams sodium.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research, http://www.aicr.org

phone: 406-686-4844

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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD

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