Bloomberg Fellow Kelli McIntyre is on a quest to make it easier and more fun for Philadelphians to be active.
In her day job, as the physical activity coordinator for Get Healthy Philly, a Philadelphia Department of Public Health initiative to promote well-being, McIntyre helps to organize and promote walking groups, aqua Zumba classes and other programs that get people moving. She’s also a part-time student in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health MPH program with a focus on environmental health. In her studies, she’s bridging public health theory and practice, exploring the ways people’s everyday surroundings can deter or encourage physical activity.
We talked to McIntyre about what it takes to help people make healthy choices in a city like Philly.
How did you come to work at Get Healthy Philly?
I was working as an athletic trainer at Villanova University and realized there are people dealing with deadly health issues like heart disease and diabetes that could be addressed through prevention. I transitioned into corporate wellness and spent 10 years as a workplace wellness coach, helping individuals to develop healthier habits.
I started to recognize that making healthy choices isn’t easy and unhealthy choices are often plentiful. Get Healthy Philly wants to make the healthy choice the easy choice. So, when I saw the job posting, I jumped on it.
What do you focus on?
Walking! A lot of our programming focuses on walking because it’s our best hope to increase physical activity. It’s easy, low-impact and free.
I work to create walkable communities, making sure people feel safe when they’re walking and working with other city departments to address the barriers to walkable communities. In Philly, we have pretty good sidewalks. However, things like litter, blight, vacancy, crime and traffic are all deterrents.
These are issues I’m planning on exploring during the master’s program. I want to understand how things like blight and litter and crime affect physical activity.
How do you solve problems like that?
Some of the solutions are already in the works. Last year, we piloted our We Walk PHL program, which established walking groups in three city parks. The groups met three times a week for a 45-minute walk.
We found that just having social support was really welcoming to folks. There was even a group of community members that continued to walk after the official season was over. We ended on October 15, and they walked well into December.
This year we’re adding two more parks. We’re also developing a walk leader tool kit, so that other people can start their own groups. Hopefully the tools we develop can be used in lots of spaces because, apparently, if you create walking groups, people will come.