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Dr. Ian Smith

I do love parks, and have all my life. I grew up next to a park reserve called Possum Creek. (Stop snickering.) My neighbors’ grandchildren were the same ages as my brother and I, so most summers were spent in and around the park, catching crawdads and frogs, exploring the woods and coming home covered in chigger bites after an afternoon of picking blackberries for Mom’s cobbler.

There’s a nice park just down the street from me, but I rarely go because it’s just not that appealing. There’s a great playground for children and a couple of covered shelters with an assortment of picnic tables. It’s a fairly new park and all the old-growth trees are relegated to the perimeter. There’s an asphalt walking path circling a protected area of tall grasses, weeds and saplings. Great for the birds and wildlife, kinda boring for me.

Dr. Ian Smith would like me to stop making excuses and go play in my local parks.

Well, not just me, of course.

You may remember Smith as creator of The 50 Million Pound Challenge. He’s also the medical and diet expert on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club. Well now, papa’s got a brand new bag: The “America Is Your Park” campaign encourages millions of Americans to be active outdoors and to cast a vote for their favorite park to win a $100,000 recreation grant made possible by Coca-Cola’s Live Positively initiative.

Coca-Cola, the National Park Foundation and Smith launched the campaign yesterday. “This is the best time ever to talk about the need to revitalize our parks and to interact with our parks,” Smith says via phone. “Look at the rate of obesity in the United States. There are so many people saying they don’t want to go to a gym, they don’t like going to a gym or cannot afford to go to a gym. Parks are free.”

My favorite park, Shelley Lake, is several miles away. There’s a nature trail that links with several others in and around the county, but I prefer to walk the two-mile loop around the large lake. All but a few sections of the trail are in shade, and there are lots of squirrels, chipmunks, ducks and herons. It’s popular for walking, running and biking. After that, I can’t think of more ideas.

“There are things you can bring to the park,” Smith says. “A jump rope, pylons for running and doing agility drills, or bring a soccer ball.

“Do some roller-skating, or rollerblading,” he continues. “Just bring the whole family out. This is all about active, family fun, and one of the solutions that will put a dent in the obesity crisis.”

We talked about the obesity epidemic among black women in particular, and he listed three reasons why 80 percent of us are overweight. “First, what we eat. Food is a cultural experience for us, and we need to modify the view that food is sacrosanct. What we eat and the way prepare our foods are counter-productive. I advocate compromise; I advocate portion control. Grill your chicken and sauté your vegetables.

“Also, African-American women are not great exercisers. Hair is an issue, and we have to figure out how can we get African-American women to exercise, not have that hair interruption, and get done what they need to get done.”

None of these issues should be a surprise to regular blog issues. I had to admit to raised eyebrows when Smith “went there” about the hair. Third, Smith talked about pressure.

“African-American women are often raising their own families along with nieces and nephews. The amount of stress, unfortunately, moves them away from doing things for themselves.”

Exercise of course, is a great way to relieve pressures of all kinds.

People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.  ~  John Wanamaker

Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.