The Root's Healthy Cities: New York

From biking to vegan soul food, there's plenty going on in the Big Apple to supplement a healthy lifestyle.

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(The Root) -- If you belong to any sort of subculture, New York City undoubtedly has a community to fit your needs. And as Americans refocus on living healthier, the Big Apple often sits at the forefront, experimenting with raw-food restaurants and food-specific laws geared to reducing obesity -- like the controversial municipal ban on large sodas that Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed. So if you're looking for a healthy city, here's a bit of what the Big Apple has to offer.

Where to Work Out

It's hard to find time to exercise as an adult -- between work and home, there's not much wiggle room. Fortunately, the Big Apple has plenty of locations to squeeze in even just a 30-minute run.

Boasting 24 locations, the YMCA has options across Manhattan and each of the other four boroughs. Using the Bedford-Stuyvesant location (1121 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn) as an example, there are a number of trendy classes, such as kettlebell workouts and African dance, to warm your muscles and trick your mind into viewing a sweaty workout as a slice of fun. The hot summer months are also a great time to take advantage of the pool, whether through a water aerobics class or just getting in some laps.

Thanks in part to Woody Allen films, Manhattan's Central Park is world famous for its majestic beauty, but it's also rightly renowned for its jogging and biking paths. And the park isn't New York City's only outdoor reserve for getting your heart pumping.

Brooklyn's Prospect Park loop (95 Prospect Park W.) welcomes a Road Runners club, both during the week and on weekends, where local joggers link up for sprints. Elsewhere, botanical gardens are in full bloom in Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, which has two locations. If you'd like to take a walk, New York City's Parks & Recreation has a breakdown of each park's options, from the most historical locations to the most romantic.

If you're more a fan of traveling on two wheels than on two legs, New York has a range of routes that bike riders happily utilize to zip across the city. A few favorites are the Waterfront Greenway, a 32-mile path that extends around Manhattan; the Ocean Parkway Bike Path, riding down the length of Brooklyn's Ocean Avenue to the beach at Coney Island; and, for the adventurous, a trek out to New Jersey's Sandy Hook National Park, a 15-mile ride from the city.

If you're just visiting the Big Apple for a few days, don't worry about finding wheels, because Citigroup recently agreed to fund a bike-share program that kicks off in July for residents and tourists to see New York from the comfort of their own (rented) spokes. The bikes will be located around Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, but make sure you return that rental, or you'll be stuck with a $1,000 credit card fee.

Where to Eat

In this age of gluten-free, vegan and raw-food enthusiasts, New York is a fantastic place to experiment. Gobo (401 Sixth Ave., Manhattan) is a long-standing vegetarian restaurant in the West Village, known for catering to the five senses. Blossom (187 Ninth Ave., Manhattan) in Chelsea gets great reviews for its tasty vegan recipes that customers are free to chow down on without guilt. Candle 79 (154 E. 79th St., Manhattan), on the Upper East Side, is also a lovely spot, as is the Japanese restaurant Kajitsu (414 E. Ninth St., Manhattan), which received two stars in the Michelin Guide (again).

Red Bamboo (140 W. Fourth St., Manhattan) has long been known for its crispy, vegetarian soul "chicken" that blends seasoning with soy to create a crunchy bite that satisfies even the most meat-loving skeptic. Up in Harlem, the MoBay soul food restaurant (17 W. 125th St., Manhattan) adds a healthy twist to traditional African-American and West Indian cuisines, if you request it. And if you're craving a healthy brunch in Brooklyn that includes fresh farm-to-table greens, Ici (246 DeKalb Ave., Brooklyn) should be on your list.

Where to Shop

Fresh fruits and produce are the best way to maintain a well-rounded diet, but the most cost-efficient places to purchase these items aren't always in a supermarket. Check out local farmers markets like Manhattan's Union Square Greenmarket, Brooklyn's Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza, the Bronx's Botanical Garden Greenmarket and Queens' Jackson Heights Greenmarket.

Thanks to local nonprofit GrowNYC, launched in 1970 around the first Earth Day to provide urbanites with healthier food options, there are 54 farmers markets in the five boroughs. Each of these markets has its own specialties, including youth farm stands, and some locations take credit, debit and EBT cards.

If you're more partial to grabbing a cart and tooling around an air-conditioned supermarket, Fairway is a terrific option. This store, which offers great variety and great prices, has locations across Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. There are also numerous mom-and-pop organic-food markets around the city, like Heathfully (98 E. Fourth St., Manhattan) and Life Thyme (410 Sixth Ave., Manhattan).

Where to Get Checked Out

With health insurance as expensive as it is, not every New York City resident can afford coverage. Fortunately, there are a number of free clinics and centers that provide health care at little to no cost. The New York City Free Clinic (16 E. 16th St., Manhattan) provides free blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol screenings, among other things, and New York City health-screening centers lead the state in the number of locations.

For sexually transmitted disease testing, check out the list of free and confidential clinics throughout the city. The Community Healthcare Network also has a variety of locations across the city that offer services for those without medical coverage. In addition, there is Planned Parenthood's four locations -- a great choice for women's health options.

While the hustle of New York City can entice even the healthiest person into grabbing a greasy slice of pizza before hopping on the subway, there are plenty of ways to combat that less-than-healthy lifestyle. It just takes a bit of planning -- and that first step -- to make a change.


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Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York bureau chief.

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