Síclovia participants exercise at Travis park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Síclovía participants exercise at Travis Park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Most of us know that physical activity — something as simple as a daily walk, not necessarily as strenuous as two hours of sweaty exercise at the gym — is essential to good health.

On the flip side, not enough people know the dangers of physical inactivity.

Physical inactivity, regardless of your weight, increases your and your children’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, liver disease, stroke, arthritis, sleep apnea, depression, and psychological stress.

That’s bad news for the 49% of San Antonio Latinos who fail to meet physical activity guidelines.

Latinos in San Antonio and across the nation tend to lack access to safe, affordable places to be physically active, like trails, sidewalks, parks, recreation centers, and pools, according to a recent research review from Salud America!, a national obesity prevention research network based at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Cities can help solve this problem.

San Antonio’s Parks and Recreation Department has created accessible, affordable opportunities for Latinos and all residents to be active and improve their mental and physical health. Fit Pass and Fitness in the Park, in particular, are gaining nationwide recognition for innovative programming.

See how local activists brought these and other programs to life in the following case studies.

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Pete Garcia and a team at the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department wanted to develop and implement programs to increase physical activity opportunities for at-risk residents across the city.

Garcia and his team developed Fitness in the Park to provide free fitness classes, like boot camp, yoga, and Zumba, in parks across the city, with equal representation across all 10 City Council districts.

They used funding from the 2010 Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant and partnered with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, Mayor’s Fitness Council, local volunteers, and the 10 City Council members.

The team launched an eight-week Fitness in the Park season in spring 2011.

A Fitness in the Park-instructor teaches a boot camp at Phil Hardberger Park.  Photo courtesy of Michael Baldwin at the City Parks & Recreation Department.
A Fitness in the Park-instructor teaches a boot camp at Phil Hardberger Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Baldwin at the City Parks & Recreation Department. Credit: Courtesy / Michael Baldwin

It was so successful that they did it again in the fall.

But with CPPW funding ending in 2012 and program sustainability in question, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department agreed to run the 2012 spring and fall sessions of the program with remaining CPPW funds. During this time, Michael Baldwin, a Parks Department special projects manager, developed a proposal for the City as part of their FY 2013 budget to run the program year-round.

“Fitness classes taking place in parks wasn’t anything new, but the concept of a City department offering numerous classes across the city as a public service was,” Baldwin said.

The City Council approved, and Fitness in the Park has been growing drastically since. It’s expanded from 2,502 classes and 23,424 participants in 2013 to an estimated 6,650 classes and 67,000 participants in 2016.

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Baldwin and his Parks Department team wanted to attract more residents to existing health programs and services across the city, like Fitness in the Park.

What about a wellness scavenger hunt?

Baldwin and his team developed a city-wide, stamp-and-passport wellness scavenger hunt and physical activity initiative, called Fit Pass, using available funds through the City for a health and fitness initiative, as well as through previously established partnerships.

Fit Pass bilingual passports contain free and low-cost physical activity, wellness, and nutrition activities provided by the Parks Department, YMCA, H-E-B, and many more partners.

Participants receive a stamp in their passport when they participate in the activity. Stamps then translate to points to win prizes.

Partnerships that build synergy among existing programs and services lead to wider-reaching, more sustainable projects, which positively impact the health of large populations. For example, since 2013, Fit Pass has concluded the program two weeks prior to the city’s biannual Síclovía – an open streets event organized by the YMCA and sponsored by H-E-B – in order to announce the winners, give away prizes, and encourage residents to attend the biannual healthy event.

The next Síclovía will take place Sunday, Sept. 25 starting at 10 a.m. See the Rivard Report article with more details on the event here.

Water Safety Classes for Students in Broward County, Fla.

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Childhood drowning rates in Florida were among the highest in the country.

Linda Joseph, a special needs teacher in Broward County – population 1.8 million, 27.5% Latino – values whole-child health and wanted to make sure her students could swim and weren’t afraid of the water.

Joseph knows that water safety boosts confidence and opens doors to many water-based physical activities associated with mental and physical benefits. In 2006, she went to a nearby pool for information and learned about and enrolled her students in free water safety education lessons through SWIM Central.

“Physical activity is connected with our health,” Joseph said. “Exercise is the reason we are sickly or well. Wellness isn’t just physical, it is also mental.”

A SWIM Central student jumps off a diving board as part of free water safety lessons.  Photo courtesy of Salud America!
A SWIM Central student jumps off a diving board as part of free water safety lessons. Photo courtesy of Salud America!

SWIM Central runs a countywide program to teach local kids to swim. It makes it easy for schools to participate by providing a package of materials — in five different languages — for schools to send to parents and by helping locate and schedule with one of numerous partner pools, which could be a municipal park and recreation swimming facility, YMCA facility, or another school facility.

One unique element about this partnership is that in 2000, the County’s Safe Parks and Land Preservation Bond allocated $19.3 million in capital bond grants for new and improved aquatic facilities within the county. This brought 17 new pools to the county with major renovations and other improvements to an additional six pools, most of which are in disadvantaged communities. As part of those agreements, the facilities signed a 25-year agreement with SWIM Central, giving schools access to those bodies of water between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays during the school year.

These are the kind of partnerships and projects people can start and support to boost physical activity and health in San Antonio and beyond.

Here are some ways to get started:

Check out Síclovía on Sunday, Sept. 25 in San Antonio to get connected with lots of health services and programs across the city, including the annual Fit Pass awards.

Our Salud America! website has fantastic stories, changes, and resources to help you start or support a healthy change to make your community a healthier place for kids. Salud America! content and outreach are tailored around equity and physical inactivity-related health disparities with the goal of driving behavioral observation, increasing self- and collective-efficacy, building cross-sector partnerships, and spurring advocacy to impact political, social, and environmental factors that influence physical activity.

Follow us at (@SaludToday) on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest and register on our site. You can connect with local groups and organizations that are already working to make the healthy choice the easy choice, like the Active Living Council of San Antonio — a public-private partnership of policymakers, business leaders, school administrators, program providers, and community members — that developed the Active Living Plan for a Healthier San Antonio. You also can learn from case studies of successful healthy change across the country.


Top image: Síclovía participants exercise at Travis Park.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone 

Related Stories:

County Releases Health Assessment, Launches Community Health Plan Effort

Salud America! How to Make Space for Physical Activity

Salud America! Keeping Latino Children Fit and Healthy

It’s Time Texas: Energize Partnerships to Improve Public Health

Amanda Merck is a content curator/research area specialist for Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. She also is a VIA board member.