The Root's Healthy Cities: Chicago

With plenty of parks and a thriving food scene, the Windy City makes staying fit a breeze.

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(The Root) -- Chicago may be known for its blues, magnificent skyline and mouthwatering restaurants, but it's also home to verdant areas and a glistening waterfront, where swimming, walking, running and biking help create a great environment for a healthy lifestyle.

The city has 580 parks on more than 8,100 acres of green space, where people can exercise or simply take in the air. Additionally, there are 26 miles of lakefront that includes 23 swimming beaches, plus one inland beach.

The Windy City is not just healthy on the exercise front. The lifestyle is reinforced through healthy eating. The city is home to famous raw-foodist Karyn Calabrese and a popular soul food vegan restaurant on the South Side. Many of these restaurants and parks are situated in neighborhoods that are easily accessible by public transportation.

Where to Work Out

Thrifty Chicagoans know where to get their workout on in the summer. Look for them on Saturday mornings on the Great Lawn of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.) from June 9 to Sept. 1. Workouts are 45 minutes long, with classes in tai chi at 7 a.m., yoga at 8 a.m., Pilates at 9 a.m. and Zumba, a Latin-inspired calorie-burning dance fitness party, beginning at 10 a.m. Returning this year, there will be live music played over Millennium Park's state-of-the-art sound system for the yoga and Pilates classes. The 24.5-acre park reflects the work of world-class architects, planners, artists and designers.

Runners, walkers, bikers or anyone looking to play water sports should check out the 57th Street Beach (57 S. Lake Shore Drive), located in Jackson Park, one of Chicago's oldest and most significant parks. The designers of New York's Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, laid out Jackson Park, along with the adjacent Midway Plaisance and Washington Park, in 1871. Since the turn of the century, the beach has been a gathering place for Chicagoans -- mostly African Americans. In 1993 the park district built a new comfort station for the beach, allowing beachgoers to enjoy the city's skyline.

Chicago's Lakefront features a sweeping 18.5-mile bike path north from Rogers Park and south to 75th Street. The trail, located just east of Lake Shore Drive, includes beaches, volleyball courts, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and soccer fields. The trails unite a mélange of neighborhoods -- including South Shore, Hyde Park, Lincoln Park and Lakeview -- and serve as both a recreational and a transportation hub. It's a great workout, whether the trail is explored via biking, running or walking.

The YMCA is always a great way to work off the pounds, especially if the budget is tight, and even if it's not. With 25 member centers sprinkled throughout the city, the YMCA is one of the largest and oldest nonprofits in Chicago. The centers offer a variety of fitness classes, swimming and healthy lifestyle and nutrition courses.

Where to Eat

While it's not difficult to find healthy fare in restaurants across the city, there are a number of establishments dedicated to serving up meals for vegans and vegetarians. Soul Vegetarian East (205 E. 75th St.) is one of those places. The greens are seasoned so well that it makes you wonder if they're really meat-free. And the Down-South Barbeque Twist Sandwich is deliciously authentic.

Whether or not diners are raw-food adherents, they will certainly enjoy Karyn's Raw (1901 N. Halsted St.), which is run by Karyn Calabrese. On the menu are appetizers such as Italian bruschetta with Italian herb crisps, topped with balsamic-glazed tomato salsa; and entrees such as linguini Alfredo -- marinated pasta noodles with mushrooms, tossed in a white wine garlic sauce.

She also runs Karyn's Cooked (738 N. Wells St.), which is considered a vegan restaurant, although some dessert items contain organic raw honey from local beekeepers. Starters include buffalo wings -- soy chicken dusted with whole wheat flour and served with garlic and barbecue sauces; homemade corn chips and guacamole; and Thai skewers -- grilled tofu and seitan meat with a choice of peanut or barbecue sauce. 

If diners are looking for healthy non-vegan and nonvegetarian dishes, Uncommon Ground (1401 W. Devon Ave.) serves up a tasty brunch of organic farm eggs, toast and any-style home fries; and for lunch and dinner, a salad of organic greens, seasonal vegetables, sunflower seeds, sprouts and naturally farm-raised chicken. No one will go hungry in Chicago looking for good clean, healthy food.

Where to Shop

The Green City Market (1790 N. Clark St.) in Lincoln Park is a fresh-produce lover's paradise. The city's only year-round farmers market, it provides support for local artisan farmers and restaurateurs, who shop here for their greens and fruit. The market has won praise from industry leader Alice Waters as one of the best sustainable markets in the country. The outdoor season runs from May 5 through Oct. 27 every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Click here for details about the indoor season, which starts in November.

For those unable to make the trek north to Lincoln Park, the Hyde Park Farmers Market (53rd Street and Hyde Park Boulevard) is a great alternative. From June 7 through Oct. 25, every Thursday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., shoppers can select from an array of organic fresh fruit, vegetables, plants, flowers and more. 

Kramer's Health Foods (230 S. Wabash Ave.) is one of the city's oldest local-family-owned and -operated health food stores. Conveniently located in the Loop for residents, commuters and shoppers alike, it has a juice bar and a vegan and vegetarian takeout service. The store's shelves are stocked with vitamins, supplements, herbs and a variety of health foods.

Get Checked Out

Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover certain preventive services at no cost to patients. As of August, the list also includes additional services for women. Free health care screenings are offered year-round by myriad organizations in the city, including drugstores such as Walgreens and CVS. Resurrection Health Care offers a variety of free health screenings -- including those for heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer -- at sites across the city.

The good news is, black Chicagoans increasingly are working out and eating healthy. All anyone has to do is look along the city's lakefront, bike paths and running trails to see black folks taking heed of first lady Michelle Obama's national campaign: Let's Move!


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Lynette Holloway is The Root's Midwest bureau chief.

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