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Hoekelman Center Newsletter - February 2024

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A Note From The Director February 2024

Back to the Future?

Our upcoming Dyson Day focuses on promoting physical activity as a way to increase health. Despite the great work of the people who will be speaking at our Grand Rounds, the long-term trends make me feel like we’ve spent the last century going backwards.

This was brought home to me recently by the collections of old photographs in the Democratic & Chronicle. A few of these really stood out to me. One picture is dated 1942, so this during World War II, but long after the advent of automobiles. The photo shows the opening day of the “Bicycle Rendezvous” that was apparently the first bicycle parking lot in downtown Rochester. A bunch of men in suits and ties and hats are lining up to pay 10 cents a day (or $1 a month—what a bargain!) to park their bikes before they go on to work.

Photos like this represent “stealth health” or “accidental exercise.” The social and built environments were making healthy physical activity routine parts of the workday, even for office workers. People didn’t need to wear Lycra or to join a gym to avoid a sedentary existence. Exercise wasn’t something you had to find time for or else feel bad about for not doing. I’m not saying we all want to go back to hard physical labor every day, but those dapper gentlemen with the bikes looked pretty happy.

I think that’s another benefit of activities like bicycling. They get you out in the world with nature and also with strangers. And that can be good for your mental health on top of the physical fitness benefits. We hear all the time that there’s a big problem nowadays with anxiety and loneliness. But when I ride my bike to work (which I’m able to do most of the year), I go along the river and see colorful birds, deer, sometimes turtles, and assorted other creatures. Just being among the trees near the river is restorative. I nod hello to lots of people and every now and then I can do a bit more than that. A few months ago, I observed a woman in distress next to her car. I got off my bike and helped her to get her brand-new mobility scooter folded back up and into her vehicle. She was very grateful; it took me just a few minutes. It’s hard to notice such instances—let alone do anything about them—when you’re zipping down the road in an automobile. I think these kinds of connections are good for me. I’m lucky to have access to a UR shuttle bus in the winter, and I have a car I drive on occasion. But any day I can bike to work is a good day.

While there have been some positive developments for bicycle-commuting in the 25 years I have been doing this in Rochester, we still have a long way to go to increase routine, cheap, easy, safe, healthy physical activity for everyone. Americans overall are not getting enough physical activity to maintain optimal levels of fitness. Fortunately, increasing opportunities for fitness in general—not just bicycling—doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. In fact, the first step might be going back to the future. The national Physical Activity Guidelines and Move Your Way campaign contain lots of tips for finding more ways to integrate healthy movement into our daily lives.

This year’s Dyson Day Grand Rounds features two CARE Track graduates: Dr. Gasparino and Dr. Verwey! Along with their community partners, they will talk about what we can do now with existing local resources to help connect more kids to physical exercise.

Dyson Day Grand Rounds will be on Zoom and recorded for later viewing, as well as happening In Real Life. After the lecture, we will have a networking coffee hour along with a display of posters from current community projects. Please connect with us!

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this page do not reflect those of the University of Rochester Medical Center.