A healthy lifestyle requires making choices to eat better, get enough sleep, not to smoke, and be physically active, to name a few. But its not always easy.
Scituate resident Mark Fenton, a public health, planning and transportation consultant, and adjunct associate professor at Tufts University, understands that getting and staying healthy is not just about telling people to exercise.
Weve been telling people that for 30 years, he said.
Rather, Fenton supports legislation that would change zoning bylaws to help encourage people to add more physical activity to their daily routines.
There is currently a bill in the state senate An Act Relative to Active Streets and Healthy Communities that would create an opt-in program for communities across the Commonwealth, Fenton explained.
If the community commits to roadway design principles that support pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit (buses), as well as cars, they have access to funds to help build that infrastructure, such as striping bike lanes and building missing sidewalks.
Another bill An Act Promoting the Planning & Development of Sustainable Communities under consideration by the states House of Representatives overhauls the states very old and out of date zoning and land use regulations, according to Fenton.
It gives much more control to communities in developing zoning ordinances that will encourage the development of more pedestrian, transit, and bike-friendly neighborhoods, and more vibrant, thriving, downtown districts, he said.
On October 9, Fenton who served for six years on the Scituate Planning Board – gave a presentation at the State House on the principles of healthy community design.
I am trying to help communities build environments where people are more physically active as part of their daily lives, he said.
Fenton said the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Department on Health and Human Services recommends that every American adult allow themselves at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
Children would need at least an hour per day, minimum.
People who are physically active tend to have a lower risk for developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even dementia, he said. Thirty minutes a day helps you live a longer healthier life.
Thats the good news, he said.
The bad news, he continued, is that only about 20 percent of adults actually get 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
I think its more like five to 10 percent, he said.
Fenton said based on data from hospital administrators, hospital beds are largely taken up by people afflicted with diseases that can be traced back to a lack of exercise and poor nutrition.
Compared to our grandparents generation, we just dont get as much physical activity in daily life.
Research journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated there are 365,000 premature deaths a year in the United States from all the diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, according to Fenton.
Were getting sicker and fatter and less active all the time, he said.
Fenton said there is a growing level of study that has found that environment influences routine physical activity.
If a kid lives near a park or a playground, will that kid be more physical active, yes, he said. If there are sidewalks in your neighborhood are you more apt to walk, yes. We know this to be true, now we just have to act on it.
He explained there are four elements that characterize communities where people do more walking, bicycling and using transit as part of daily life a mix of good land uses close together, a good network of connecting facilities (sidewalks, bike lanes, trails), building sites that are functional and inviting for pedestrians and bicyclists, and allowing for safety and accessibility for people of all ages and physical abilities and disabilities.
The two bills before the Legislature will make it easier for communities to create these types of settings, he said.
Practice what you preach
A mechanical engineer with a Bachelor of Science degree and a Masters of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Fenton worked in the biomechanics laboratory at MIT as an undergraduate. The lab often collaborated with Massachusetts General Hospital.
I did do some research on trying to improve the walking gait in stroke patients at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, he said.
He started running track and cross country while in junior high school, and has remained active his whole life.
My current favorite activities include hiking and surfing, which I have just taken up in adulthood, he said.
He was also a competitive race walker and tried out for the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams.
I didnt make the Olympics but was able to compete in some other international events, he said.
He ended up working for the now defunct health a fitness magazine, Walking, which was based in Boston.
They brought me in because I had a biomechanics background, and had done the competitive walking, he said. Walking is the best exercise for everyone. Doctors recommend it for people of all ages.
As for what Scituate is doing to embrace a healthy lifestyle, Fenton said the town has done some great things, but can do much more.
We have lots of missing sidewalks we should be building, he said, and we should make sure whenever we grant a permit for new development i.e., housing subdivision we should require quality sidewalks and pedestrian and bicycle connections to nearby destinations such as schools, shopping, parks and playgrounds.
For more information on Mark Fenton visit http://www.markfenton.com/what.html
He has also completed a six-minute video, available for viewing on Youtube that gives his perspective on where the effort stands to build a more walkable world. To see the video visit
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