Monday, September 9, 2013

Kentucky, Rockcastle are on the move

We're more active in 2011 than in 2001

Finally, there is good news in the commonwealth, and it has nothing to do with next year’s recruiting class. Something noteworthy has been happening for 10 years, and we learned in July what it was.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation released a study measuring the change in physical activity of Americans, and Kentuckians are among tops in the nation for increasing the amount of exercise they get. You read that right, and it bears repeating: Of all the states in the country, Kentucky was among the best, if not the best, when it came to increasing physical activity from 2001 through 2011.

Rockcastle County also showed significant improvement. The number of Rockcastle County men, for example, who reported sufficient levels of physical activity (150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week) increased by 4.5 percent, compared to the state’s 5.4 percent increase. The county’s activity level for men was 39.1%. That’s below the state figure of 49.9% and the national average of 56.3 percent. More locally, our men’s activity levels were lower than most surrounding counties. Still, there was improvement. Women reported similar results.

Here’s a link to the map that has all the info, broken down by gender:

Experts are quick to point out that, since Kentucky ranked so poorly in 2001, any increase in physical activity is magnified percentage-wise. But drill down into the statistics and you’ll discover that we still outperformed most states which had similar beginnings.

Let’s pick on the Volunteer state, for example. In 2001, 36.3 percent of Tennessee women reported getting sufficient levels of exercise. In 2011 that number had grown only to 39.9 percent. Now look at Kentucky. In 2001, 33.6 percent of our women reported sufficient exercise. In 2011 the number was 45.8 percent. You could say we came storming back from a 3-point halftime deficit and are running away with the game.

Of course this isn’t a competition, but I don’t see any harm in thinking of it that way. If we did, given the way we approach, say, college sports, there’s no telling what we could accomplish.  The thing is, if you’re sick – which you are more likely to be if you do not exercise – it doesn’t matter who won Saturday’s game.

If you have the same kind of Kentucky pride that I have, you’ll find the sight of this study’s color-coded map refreshing. Our commonwealth, long beset by health problems, often ranks near the bottom of the heap in health measurements. When public health officials publish maps designed to illustrate health status at a glance, for whatever reason dark green most often represents the worst health status, with lighter green to white indicating areas of better health. It seems Kentucky, especially Eastern Kentucky and often including Rockcastle County, is always the darkest of dark green. We’re talking Appalachian deep forest green. And it makes me feel like I did in Little League after getting hammered by other teams from nearby towns.

But in sports they say never give up, and guess what, we finally won a game, or at least scored some points. The map associated with this study uses a different color scheme altogether, but notice Kentucky. Its blue colors make it stand out from nearly all of the other states, and the blue here has nothing to do the Wildcats.

The bad news is obesity continues to climb. So in spite of the increased physical activity, much work remains.

But the benefits of exercise are scientifically indisputable, and apparently what’s being done by public health advocates, universities, health departments, hospitals and others across the commonwealth is paying off. Rockcastle Regional Hospital’s Countywide Stride run/walk series is a good example.  Ten years ago, there was one annual recreational run/walk in the county, and it attracted 100 or so participants. Now there are monthly run/walks that are averaging 228 participants. Surely, this work is having an impact.

The 12-race series began in 2012, which was also the first full year of operation for the hospital’s new wellness center. It attracted 5,000 visits for fitness classes such as spin, yoga, Zumba and kickboxing in 2012 alone. So we suspect big gains have been made since this study (which again spanned the years 2001 – 2011) was conducted.

Now if we can tap into some team spirit to address obesity, smoking, and other health challenges, maybe someday our true colors will shine through.