What Makes a Town “Healthy?"

Life expectancy in NYC has increased due to healthy living. Here’s how New Canaanites can experience the same results.

In general, I think New Canaanites are pretty focused on keeping fit and take good care of themselves. Residents exhibit healthy behavior all over town like walking, jogging, biking and playing sports.You can also find a wide variety of healthy eateries and markets in the town center. And I can’t think of a single local that I know who is a smoker. So what else can we do to better the health and well-being of our town and it’s residents? Recently, Manhattan was touted as one of the healthiest cities in the Nation based on increases in life expectancy rates. What have Manhattanites been up to over the past 10 years and how can we in New Canaan (and other Fairfield county towns) follow in their footsteps?

Manhattan’s success is greatly attributed to the aggressive efforts by city health officials who simply took away unhealthy choices from residents. They did things like ban trans fats, mandated the use of calorie labels on menus in chain restaurants and posted information about the risks of obesity in public spaces. The City Health Commissioner cited the real concerns to address as tobacco use, poor nutrition and inactivity. Consequently, here are some things we can do on our own to mimic the NYC’s initiatives, whether or not it’s been mandated.

I love seeing nutritional information on menus in the City. It totally affects what I choose to eat. But if that information isn’t there you don’t have to be left in the dark. Ask your server exactly what ingredients are put into the dish before you order. Inquire how the food is prepared and cooked. Ask how large or small the portion will be? Your waiter or waitress may even know the approximate number of fat and calories in the dish. Use this information to decide on your meal. How many times have you received your food and thought, “I didn’t know it would be this much” or “I didn’t know this is how it would be prepared?” Ask before you order and there will be no surprises on your table.

Do I really need to say anything at all about smoking? Is there anyone left on this planet that doesn’t know that no good comes from smoking? And as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think I know one person in this town who smokes (at least openly). So let’s continue to work on educating our children about the dangers of smoking. My kids are horrified when they see someone light up and ask, “don’t they know how bad that is.” I can only continue to drill this message into their brains.

Be active and stay that way year round. When I lived in the City it was easy to get in some daily exercise.  Ever try to hail a cab around rush hour in Manhattan? Then you know what I’m talking about. I walked to many destinations by default until walking a mile or two became nothing; and if I had to go a bit further than that, so be it. But then I moved to suburbia I find that I am sitting in my car for much of the day. So what can you do when you have to get Mary to her dance lesson and Mark to the soccer field? Drop them off and then go and get some exercise while they are exercising. Don’t worry if you can’t get in a solid hour. Twenty minutes here and there add up and make a difference. And then walk or bike to those places that you really don’t need to drive to. If you are spending a lot of time during the day sitting at your desk or behind the computer get out of your chair regularly and do some jumping jacks or jog in place. Really, I’m not kidding. All of those little things add up and help improve your overall level of fitness.

I commend the NYC Health Department for trying to make a difference but do we really need a government body to do these things for us? Mayor Bloomberg’s latest initiative is to ban the sale of large size sugary beverages in certain establishments which is another commendable effort. But if you don’t already know that the phrase “super-size me” is counter productive to a healthy lifestyle, than you’ve probably been living under a rock somewhere and have other things to learn about like the Internet and iPhone. Be smart and aware. Aware of the food you are ingesting, the energy you’re expending and the harmful things you are potentially doing to your body. Paying attention and making small changes here and there can add up to big things like extra years on your life so start taking those little steps today!



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