Three Central Florida Cities Strive to be Healthier
Eatonville, Winter Park and Maitland launch morning walks in an effort to become healthy communities.
[Image: Residents and Rollins graduate students participate in Eatonville's morning walk.]
If it’s true that no man is an island, then perhaps the key to good health is living in a community that promotes a healthy lifestyle. No town, city or neighborhood in Central Florida can claim to be the healthiest in the nation, but Eatonville, Maitland and Winter Park are all pursuing that banner. Their initiatives all started with a focus on walking. It’s a simple lifestyle change that’s getting results for people like Winter Park Library Assistant Sarah Williams.
“After seeing someone that was close to me have a stroke at the age of 46, it was an eye opener for me,” said Williams. Williams is overweight, pre-diabetic, and struggles with high blood pressure. When she heard the cities of Eatonville, Winter Park and Maitland were hosting morning walks last November, she decided to join in and walk with all three cities. In less than six months, she’s lowered her blood pressure enough to go off one of her medications and she’s lowered her pre-diabetes or blood glucose levels by two points. She’s also lost weight.
“I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but I went down two dress sizes,” said Williams.
The community walks were launched in 2011 by Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount. He said he was moved to start his Walk and Talk with the Mayor program because he was signing so many funeral resolutions for his small town. Eatonville has the highest rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension of the three cities. In fact, 24-percent of Eatonville residents have diabetes, compared to nine percent in Winter Park and Maitland. The diabetes rate alone puts Eatonville’s population at an increased risk for a host of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. But Eatonville’s walkers are seeing improvements in their health. The Mayor himself has lost 40 pounds.
“I never thought walking could have that kind of result, just casually walking, walking at your own pace, and when I’ve seen it drop, along with healthy eating, because we do talk about healthy eating and portion control, yes, I’ve seen a tremendous difference,” said Mount.
The mayor’s walking program has proven so successful, it became the pilot for Winter Park, Maitland and the Healthy Central Florida initiative that all three cities are now part of. But the quest to create a healthy community will involve more than morning walks, so a recent Rollins College graduate student project focused on how Eatonville could develop a healthier environment for its residents. But in order to address the city’s needs, the students needed to get a feel for the community.
“The best way to do that is to do it on foot, and almost field check what we’ve been doing with all of our studies and analysis,” said Rollins College adjunct professor Bob Hahn, who accompanied the students during one of the Walk and Talks with the Mayor.
The students’ recommendations included improving sidewalks, brighter, more appealing street lights, establishing community gardens and organizing events aimed at creating a stronger sense of place. The city of Maitland is working to expand its walking program by extending its footpaths to create a full loop around the community. And Winter Park’s walks are seeing heavy participation from commissioners and other city officials. That kind of participation matters because there’s more to a healthy community that just physical health. Feeling connected to the community is important too, and as Williams found out, the morning walks can be a big part of that.
“You get to know people, and just meeting different people and if you have a city commissioner walking with you, you get to learn a lot of different things about the city,”
The cities’ walks are on different days, which makes it easy for devotees like Sarah to hit all three. They’re early- 6:30 a.m. in Maitland, 7 a.m. in Winter Park and Eatonville. But the walkers say it’s a great way to start the day and an obvious step toward a healthier community.