What does it take to log 12,849,676 minutes of physical activity across the Village of Wellington to win the Palm Health Foundation’s 2019 Let’s Move challenge? According to Paulette Edwards, Wellington’s community services director, the key was community engagement.
“We thought through all the ways our community comes together — government, community organizations, neighborhoods, schools, parks and businesses — and engaged every age group from pre-K to seniors,” she explained.
Wellington bested 409 teams across Palm Beach County to log the most minutes of exercise during the Palm Health Foundation’s “Let’s Move: Commit to Change Physical Activity Challenge” in March — the second time in two years that Wellington won. The village accounted for a whopping 40 percent of the total 32 million minutes logged.
The challenge, now in its seventh year, inspires Palm Beach County residents to complete and log 30 minutes of activity each day during the month of March.
According to Marge Sullivan, a 17-year Wellington resident and the Palm Health Foundation’s vice president of communications, Let’s Move was inspired by former First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2010 national program to decrease childhood obesity.
“We created the challenge for adults and children to improve a variety of health issues through regular physical activity, including reducing the risk for diabetes and heart disease, improving brain health, and increasing chances for healthy longevity,” Sullivan said.
Startling statistics were also the impetus. The State of Obesity’s annual report cites that Florida’s adult obesity rate is currently 28.4 percent, up from 18.4 percent in 2000, and it has the nation’s 13th highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 at 16.9 percent.
The importance of improving residents’ overall health — both mind and body — was what attracted Jill Merrell, owner of Wellington’s Ultima Fitness, to champion the village’s Let’s Move team since it began.
“We’ve always been advocates of the community and getting people active,” Merrell said. “Ultima Fitness continually evolves to better serve our community. Let’s Move gave us the opportunity to show people how they can reach their wellness goals no matter their level of fitness. It’s so rewarding to see how people of all ages increase their energy levels and happiness through exercise.”
Merrell opened Ultima to the community for free the entire month of March and encouraged everyone to log their minutes. They also engaged their martial arts school youth, childcare group and mom’s club to all become active. Merrell believes that parents and youth leaders need to set the example. “By educating the adults, we are creating role models for children,” she said.
Mayor Anne Gerwig couldn’t agree more. That’s why she and the other four Wellington Village Council members embraced Let’s Move. “Getting kids out and active and setting a pattern of behavior gets them on the right path for their entire lives,” Gerwig said.
The mayor and council members kicked off their support by participating in a Let’s Move campaign video that was designed to get youth involved. Playing the role of rallier-in-chief, Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes donned a sweatband, his Converse sneakers and Let’s Move t-shirt for the filming. Walking through Village Park, he and the council members pass by athletes from Wellington and Palm Beach Central high schools, showing them in action and then becoming part of a growing swarm of youth joining Barnes and the Let’s Move team.
Edwards knew that by making the youth the spotlight of the video, they would share it on social media and invite their fellow athletes and friends to join. She also knew that engaging the high school’s activity directors and the Parks & Recreation Department and other youth community groups, like the Boys & Girls Club, Wellington could be a contender for the top spot in the challenge.
It worked. Parks & Recreation accounted for nearly half of the 12.8 million minutes logged, and the Boys & Girls Club was also a huge contributor.
Gerwig is quick to point out that the goal of Let’s Move isn’t just to log minutes. It’s to make a change in everyone’s life, particularly for youth, by instilling lifelong healthy behaviors, no matter one’s abilities. “It’s not about the level of activity, it’s the time,” she said. “And it’s not about being a super athlete. Everyone can participate at some level.”
While Wellington’s youth were the engine that put the village over the top, Edwards cites the many other creative ways that her department encouraged all ages to participate. Neighborhood Watch captains invited members of their communities to join in evening walks. Seniors taking part in the mall’s “Walkers of Wellington” logged their minutes. And nonprofit, community and faith organizations that make up the Wellington Community Roundtable also took part.
When asked how her efforts helped toward the win, Edwards stressed that she just helped bring the community together. “Wellington had all of the ingredients for success,” she said. “I put myself in the role of the chef to put them all together to bake the cake for the win!”
Let’s Move sponsors included Joe DiMaggio Children’s Health Specialty Center, the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County and Wisehaupt, Bray Asset Management.
Learn more about Let’s Move at www.letsmovepbc.org. To view the Wellington Let’s Move video, visit www.youtube.com/user/MyWellingtonFl.