(originally posted here on The Garden Island: September 25, 2017)

How many steps is that?

Bev Brody, Get Fit Kauai director, was caught between heading for a meeting with the Rice Street block party committee, packing for a multi-day convention on Oahu, and squeezing in a cup of Starbucks brew.

“What?” the efficacious, bubbly lady said, relishing the shade cast by a palm at the Kukui Grove Center. “I don’t even know how to set that up on my smart phone. How do you keep track of that when you’re leading an exercise class?”

Who is Bev Brody?

As an employee of the Hawaii Public Health Institute (HIPHI which is a nonprofit hub for health, bringing community-based organizations, government, academia, foundations and business together to improve the quality of life for the people of Hawaii) and the director for Get Fit Kauai, I spend my day helping (and hoping) to improve the health of our island’s communities and the people who reside in and visit here.

Unfortunately, over half of Kauai’s adult population is overweight or obese and more than 25 percent get no physical activity in an average week. Additionally, more than 80 percent of us are not eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which is the amount that is recommended.

Clearly, what we have been doing isn’t working!

As a community, we need to change the way we do business. Over and above encouraging our friends, families and co-workers to eat better and exercise more we must get to the root of the problem and start changing (demanding) policies that support healthier, active living.

At Get Fit Kauai, we are focusing our efforts and resources to facilitate these very important community health objectives by working with our public policymakers and community leaders to adopt positive, progressive local ordinances, codes, policies, and standards that create healthier public infrastructure and workplaces.

By focusing on our community’s built environment, safer routes for children to walk and bike to school, increasing access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables, and healthier workplaces, we believe we can reverse the negative population health trends here on Kauai.

There are several events taking place in the near future, including the breast cancer walk presented by the Kauai Committee on the Status of Women on Oct. 4, the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital breast cancer walk on Oct. 6, and the Eleele Elementary School first ever Walk to School Day on Nov. 2. You will be helping and participating at all of these. What is beneficial about these walks and physical activity to an individual besides helping advocate for a cause?

In addition to all the events you mentioned, Oct. 4 is also International Walk to School Day and Kauai has seven schools participating.

Actually, some of the schools are walking on Oct. 5, but we’re allowed to count them as part of International Walk to School Day. Usually, International W2SD lands during spring break in Hawaii, but this year it doesn’t, so, for the first time, International Walk to School Day will see primary school pupils from across Kauai join forces with children in more than 40 countries worldwide to celebrate the benefits of walking to school!

The benefits of walking or biking to school are countless.

Walking and biking to and from school can contribute lifelong habits of incorporating physical activity into daily routines. Students who walk one mile to and from school get two-thirds of recommended levels of physical activity.

Children who walk to school are more physically active throughout the day. Physically active children tend to have better academic achievement, higher self-esteem, enhanced concentration, better classroom behavior.

Because walking is possible for most people and doesn’t require special skills or equipment, it has become the most popular form of physical activity in our country. And when done in a group like the Kauai Committee on the Status of Women and Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, the camaraderie you experience and the shared fitness success can help you walk your way to better health.

What are the benefits of walking to school? And Safe Routes to School?

Many communities on Kauai struggle today with roads congested with traffic, environments damaged by vehicle emissions, and children becoming inactive and overweight.

At first glance, the answer to these concerns seems to come from separate sources but the Safe Routes to School program addresses these issues simultaneously.

SRTS programs are sustained efforts lead by a school and/or community with a common goal; to create and foster fun, safe and inviting ways for kids to walk and bike to school.

Today, more than ever, there is a need to provide options for children to walk and bike to school. Fewer children walk and bike to school than they did 30 years ago. Many factors contributed to this reduction.

According to travel evaluations conducted at all elementary schools on Kauai, distance is the primary barrier followed by speed and volume of traffic.

Due to these and other factors, opportunities to walk and bike to school have suffered, and parents begin driving their children to school adding even more traffic to the road. Parents driving their children to school can account for 20 to 25 percent of morning traffic.

The percentage of severely overweight children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 10 years has tripled in the last 30 years! Today’s children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents!

Get Fit Kauai’s SRTS program is based on the 5 “E’s” — Evaluation, Education, Enforcement, Engineer and Encouragement.

* Evaluation: Travel evaluations are completed once a year at all elementary schools on Kauai. This provides excellent data on reasons why parents choose to allow, or not allow their children to walk to school. Among other things, these evaluations help us identify the barriers to walking and biking to school.

* Education: Kauai Path has been in instrumental in teaching bicycle education curriculum developed by the League of American Bicyclists and the Safe Routes to School Traffic Safety Program to many elementary school children on Kauai.

* Enforcement: Kauai depends greatly on the Kauai Police Department for their involvement in the SRTS program. During one Walk to School Day, outside Kapaa Elementary School, KPD Officers gave out 24 tickets for the following offenses during a 4-hour period of time: 14 speeding, four seat belts, two delinquent tags, two drivers license not on person, one permit violation, one fraudulent use of plates.

* Engineering: Many infrastructure changes are happening around schools on Kauai. Planning and Public Works are working hard to ensure the environments around schools are safe to walk and bike.

* Encouragement: Walk to School Days have grown in popularity on Kauai. Kilauea, St. Catherine’s, Kalaheo, Koloa, King Kaumualii and Kapaa Elementary Schools host Walk to School Days once a month!

During the 2015-16 school year, more than 4,500 students, parents and teachers from seven schools on Kauai walked or biked to school. That is an average of about 640 people per school walking or biking to school which is more than 2,000 more participants in the program during the 2013-14 school year.

You are also part of the Rice Street revitalization program taking place. What are the health oriented components of the project?

As I mentioned earlier, more than 25 percent of Kauai residents do not get the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

One of the reasons for that is time — people today are super busy and find it difficult to find extra time to exercise. By designing and building communities that support active living, people will be able to incorporate daily exercise more easily.

Certain community designs have strong potential to contribute to increased physical activity. Researchers have found convincing evidence that people who live in communities characterized by mixed land use (e.g., with stores in walking distance of homes); well-connected street networks; and high residential density are more active, especially for transportation, than those who live in communities designed for automobile dependence.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant improvements include the addition of pedestrian and bike lanes on Rice Street, a shared-use path from the Lihue Civic Center to the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall and bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Hoolako Street. When people can walk or bike to their destination safely, that’s huge!

As the Get Fit Kauai director there have been several initiatives focused on physical activity and nutrition. What are some of them?

Get Fit Kauai’s award-winning Islandwide Worksite Wellness Challenge addresses several issues regarding physical activity and nutrition.

The nine-month challenge addresses five core areas: general health environment, physical activity, nutrition, tobacco cessation and stress management.

Participating teams take a survey of 41 yes/no questions. Each question has a point value. Teams have nine months to change as many of their “no” answers to “yes” answers, with the help of an assigned a coach from Get Fit Kauai’s amazing Worksite Wellness Leadership Team.

Results of the 2016 WWC were nothing short of astounding. Out of the 18 teams that participated, 59 percent established a healthy food meeting policy, 53 percent banned electronic smoking devices, 41 percent subsidized gym memberships, and 41 percent installed bicycle racks.

Get Fit Kauai’s Worksite Wellness Leadership team is preparing to launch the third annual Worksite Wellness Challenge in January 2018. Stay tuned!

On your Facebook page, you are described as “the Get Fit Kauai director, a personal trainer, radio personality, and Kauai’s own Miss Canada.” What is the Canadian connection?

Hahaha! I was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. A reporter from the local newspaper gave me the name “Miss Canada” when I moved to Kauai more than 20 years ago, and it’s stuck.

Are there significant differences in physical activity, healthy lifestyle and nutrition initiatives in Canada compared with the United States?

Canada, in general, invests money in actions that prevent disease such as creating environments that support and promote physical activity and nutritious healthy eating. An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. “I’d rather get diabetes and treat it, than not develop it at all,” said no one, ever!

Here is a fact most people probably don’t know — Canadians live longer than people in the United States. Specifically, women in Canada live an average of 83 years compared to 80 in the U.S.; men live more than 78 years on average compared to 75 in the United States.

Thanks to the many, many organizations, coalitions and the current administration, Kauai is moving in that direction and slowly creating a “culture of prevention.”

What is the simplest advice you can offer to people toward staying healthy?

These three tips are nothing new. But they work!

Rethink your drink! Act like you live in a desert and start drinking a sh** ton of water. OK, not a ton, but at least eight glasses a day. I know, you’ve heard this before, but still a lot of people aren’t doing it. Drinking water not only keeps you hydrated, it also keeps your skin looking healthier, aids in digestion, and gives you more energy. Try putting down your soda and picking up a glass of water.

Mom was right — eat your veggies! They are one of the most nutritious things we can eat and every day we should aim to get at least five servings a day. This may sound like a lot but one serving is equivalent to about half a cup of vegetables such as brussel sprouts, cabbage, green beans, cucumber, broccoli or the like. So, if you eat one salad you could already be consuming a few servings of veggies in one meal.

Start moving that awesome body of yours! Few things are as good for you as regular physical activity. While it can be hard to find the time, it’s important to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day. That could mean three to 10-minute bouts of activity. More is even better, but any amount is better than none.