What Makes a Healthy Maine Street?

Man exercising

Courtesy Maine Downtown Center

Everywhere you look, people are trying to move more, eat better, lose weight, get rid of stress … they’re tired of feeling tired and overwhelmed and just plain unhealthy. Trouble is, when you’re going it alone, like many people do, it can become too much of a challenge and next thing you know you’re back where you started.

Nineteen communities in Maine are trying to lessen some of the challenges for small businesses and residents who want to get in shape and lead healthier lives. Last year the Maine Development Foundation in Augusta started a program called Healthy Maine Streets (HMS). It’s funded by a national Centers for Disease Control Community Transformation Grant.

Healthy Maine Streets Goals

  • Increase access to physical activity.
  • Increase access to healthy food and beverages.
  • Promote enforcement of tobacco laws and increase tobacco-free environments within downtowns and at small businesses.

Anne Ball, who is the Healthy Maine Streets Program Coordinator, told me the program was born out of a micro wellness program in Skowhegan that began to look at how to get small employers to be healthy. “They often do not have access to health insurance,” she explains. “They usually do not have wellness programs and coaches like corporate America.”

The transformation grant that led to Healthy Maine Streets just ended, but Anne says the program will live on in each of the 19 communities that participated. “The grant set out to prove there is a connection between economic development and public and community health,” she says. “Basically, if a downtown is healthier, more people will want to live, work and play in that downtown. If a downtown is vibrant with connections to trail systems, access to healthy foods and has clean air, it is better for business and better for the health of the employees and better for the bottom line.”

More than 200 businesses with fewer than 20 employees participated in HMS projects. They’ve ranged from big public wellness events to new multi-use trails and bike share programs, work site wellness challenges, walking groups and new walk/bike route maps. I thought you mind find it interesting — maybe even inspirational and motivating — to see what some of the communities are doing for projects.

7-minute workout station

Courtesy Maine Downtown Center

Some Healthy Maine Streets projects

Biddeford
Biddeford HMS built and installed the first-ever 7-minute workout station (developed by Johnson and Johnson) in a downtown park. Read the article The Sun Monthly wrote about the project.

Walking Train Gardiner, Maine

Courtesy Maine Downtown Center

Gardiner
Gardiner HMS organized a ‘walking train’ for downtown employees. In February, News Center 6 ran a story on Fit at Five.

Gardiner Healthy Menu Options brochure cover

Gardiner also created the Guide to Gardiner’s Healthy Menu Options. The booklet explains the benefits of healthy choices at eight downtown restaurants and acts as a healthy eating passport that rewards people who eat at at least five restaurants.

National surveys, like this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have shown that adding nutrition information to menus is noticed and used by customers.

Belfast
Our Town Belfast is working on increasing healthy menu choices at local restaurants and highlighting already healthy items.

Machias and Kennebunk 
Machias and Kennebunk HMS developed free bike share programs.

Machias offers loaner bikes, which are painted the easily identifiable Healthy Maine Streets green. Bike racks are being installed, and trail maps and a smart phone app are currently being developed. Read all about it in this Bangor Daily News article.

Kennebunk named its program Pedal Your Way to Health. Reconditioned bikes have been placed throughout the downtown: three at the Chamber of Commerce, three at Town Hall, one at Bergen Parkinson and four at the Bridle Path. Additionally, bike racks have been installed and trail maps are available. Check out their website.

Eastport developed a bike and walking map and, with the help of the local elementary school, created a Sprocket Society, which teaches children to repair and build bicycles. Check out their Facebook page.

Anne might be biased, but she thinks Healthy Maine Streets is an amazing program that is changing the culture of Maine downtowns!

Even if they aren’t part of Healthy Maine Streets, many other communities are trying to make a similar difference. What’s happening in your community?

 

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.