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Measuring Physical Activities in Communities

December 11, 2019


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy: Today, we’re talking about Measuring Physical Activities in Communities. Hello, I’m Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm & Family. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Megan Holmes, Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, who is working with the Office of Extension’s AIM for CHangE Team and our series to explore the Delta Region’s growth and development.  Today, we are going to get an inside look at exactly what is going on with initial data collection and how our MSU departments work together to serve the Delta!

Megan, it is so great to have you today and dig into what is happening in the Delta. But before we get into that, can you tell me what type of role you play with AIM for CHangE and your thoughts on how this program can ultimately lead to positive, sustainable change in the Delta?

Megan: Of course, Amy, and I am just as thrilled to be here! First off, I am an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at MSU. So, AIM for CHangE is important to me because of its focus on HOP—or the high obesity program. It is an integral part of not just who I am as a professor but also as a professional and a person: I am always striving to apply research, which is what the Office of Extensions is all about! As one of the physical activity researchers for AIM for CHangE, my job is to figure out the best ways to measure and assess physical activity resources and levels in the communities—and in that role I also get to help identify ways for communities to be more activity friendly. I think this program is well-positioned to impart lasting and meaningful changed on physical activity habits and attitudes and slowly but sustainably integrate physical activity into the lives of youth, families and our Delta communities in their respective entities.

Amy: What an interesting role! And to think that you can also pass this experience to your students for a more integrative learning process! So, when you are measuring physical activities, what exactly are the measures you use and how do they measure change in the community?

In this project, we are using a few tools developed by the Active Living Research Group. The Rural Active Living Assessment (RALA) and the Physical Activity Resource Assessment (PARA) help determine the current state of physical activity resources in communities, like parks, walking trails, and even sidewalks in neighborhoods. We are literally…physically…looking at them. The System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities looks at how much these resources are being used and for what kinds of activities. These forms of measurement allow me to document what is currently in place and then assess, over the course of the project, how our efforts impact their usability or accessibility over time. And ultimately, this can also impact attitudes toward physical activity. People feel empowered when they have opportunities to better themselves! And that is a special experience to know and observe that what I am doing in my research and job ultimately improves the lives of others and especially our Delta community!

 Amy: That is incredible! And you actually get to see the Delta and really be a part of that process! A lot of people, myself included, imagine research mostly being at the desk but now to have that picture of collecting information on how and when the parks are used is absolutely fascinating! So, when do you collect the data? And then what exactly do you do with it?

Megan: Yes, so, at the beginning of the project I try to do that initial data collection of how and when people are using those recreational areas. There are certain seasonal elements that also impact park use such as weather conditions, lighting and even temperature; so it is important that I also take that into account when collecting. It is also useful to install cameras to get a better idea of what is going on at on different days and at different times of day. For example, park use on a weekend or holiday will certainly be different than on a regular weekday. I don’t want to collect on 4th of July and use that as an assessment of how community members use recreational areas on the norm, you know?

Amy: Right! And that really makes sense when you say that—holidays and weekends certainly impact those aspects of the project. So, for the Delta, how do you see AIM for CHangE impacting physical activity in terms of enabling people to be more active?

 Megan: I foresee the AIM for CHangE improving the overall health of Delta Citizens. By providing resources and assisting them with their projects, we get to see the people of the Delta make positive changes for their own communities. We really work with the residents of the Delta to see how we can help complete their envisioned goals about how to improve the Delta. There are a lot of moving parts, but that is why observing, listening and contributing to positive dialogue is so important.

Amy: Yes, and again, knowing all the work that goes into AIM for CHangE to make it that much more successful is exciting in and of itself. At this time of year, how can we encourage each other to be more physically active even when the weather does not cooperate?

Megan: I get it. The weather won’t cooperate or it is too windy to go out, but really it does not take long and its good not just for your physical health but your overall health. There’s an old saying: You should sit in nature for twenty minutes a day if you aren’t busy and if you are you should spend an hour. Let’s take that with us and just go out and be in nature! Jog around your local park, swing with your children or walk your dog. It is as easy as just starting to move more and sit less. You can start with taking a walk around your neighborhood or beginning a personal garden. Any movement is better than none, and it doesn’t take long.  One step at a time, literally!

Amy: Thank you, for that, Megan, and that is certainly something that we can all do as we approach the holidays. But before you go, can you tell our listeners how we can learn more about AIM for CHangE and the work being done with our Delta communities?

Megan: Yes, of course! Please check out our team’s work at and search AIM for CHangE. And don’t forget—all it takes is that decision to get active to move in the right direction and become more physically active!

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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