'Fitness Deserts' a Threat to Health in Many Cities

jogging washington dc urban underpass photo

Jogging in Washington, DC. Photo: Daquella Manera / Creative Commons.

With its steep hills, narrow (if not nonexistent) sidewalks, scanty parks, air pollution, and aggressive, unpredictable drivers, Istanbul has admittedly been an unlikely place for me to take up running. Working out in any form is such a recent (and still strange) phenomenon here that one fellow expat dubbed Turkey "the land the YMCA forgot." But one doesn't need to leave the United States to find similar "fitness deserts" where exercising opportunities are so limited as to pose a threat to health.In many neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Alex Schmidt reports for GOOD, people have to dodge fast-moving cars to get from one pedestrian-friendly stretch to another; some even resort to jogging on the road medians due to the lack of parks -- an issue in 80 percent of all census blocks in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Green Space Concentrated In Rich Neighborhoods
The problem is particularly acute in poor neighborhoods, where gyms, if available, are out of reach financially for many residents, Schmidt writes, citing figures showing more than 50 times as much recreation or green space per capita in wealthy parts of L.A. than low-income ones:

Like food deserts -- areas where residents don't have reliable access to fresh food -- fitness deserts pose health challenges to millions of Americans, mostly low-income ones.... Studies have shown that these disparities exist in cities all over the country, including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., complicating efforts to fight obesity in poor communities.

Some readers who commented on the GOOD website scoffed at the issue, telling people who live in such areas to just buy a treadmill or do free exercises in their own homes rather than making "excuses" for not working out. But such suggestions shift responsibility from cities -- which should be providing safe environments to walk or bike to work, and, yes, exercise -- onto individuals. They also ignore the mental-health boost of outdoor exercise, and the benefits to community provided by allowing local residents to interact in shared spaces -- something without which a neighborhood is poor indeed.

More On Exercising
Green Exercise: No-Gym-Required Workout in the Park
How to Go Green: Workouts
Can Social Media Motivate You to Exercise?
We Must Break The Low Exercise - Air Conditioning - Obesity Vicious Circle
Portland's Green Microgym Channels Human Exercise Power Into Electricity
Combining Errands with your Exercise Routine

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