(The Root) — Forget the tomfoolery commonly associated with Atlanta nowadays — reality-TV catfights, hair pulling, unsupervised egomaniacs and poseurs looking to be idolized. The city with more Peachtree streets than visitors can remember is very supportive of individuals who want a healthier and more serene quality of life.
A new transplant to the area from Los Angeles — a vegan who enjoys outdoor activities — recently asked me if there was anything in Atlanta that aligned with her interests. Is there?! Metro Atlanta can be like a supportive friend to anyone dedicated to healthy living, offering a variety of support and encouragement. One of the most obvious offerings is green space. It's really green here — because of the 356 parks and green spaces managed by the city of Atlanta. And many neighborhoods in metro Atlanta have a nearby park with a walking track.
Where to Work Out
One popular spot where many Atlantans and visitors like to get their exercise on is the city's version of New York's Central Park, Piedmont Park (521 Park Drive NE, Atlanta). Situated on 185 acres in the heart of Midtown, the park offers a few trails that joggers, walkers, bladers and bicyclists can trek. There's the Park Loop, the longest circuit at 1.68 miles; the .96-mile Lake Loop, which circles Clara Meer; and the Active Oval, which is .70 miles and includes a half-mile running path.
While Piedmont Park is conveniently located, Stone Mountain Park (1000 Robert E. Lee Drive, Stone Mountain) is a runner's paradise. You can either walk or run up the 1.3-mile Walk Up Trail to the mountain's summit, which offers a fantastic panoramic view of the metro area. The five-mile paved loop at the mountain's base helps you keep track of your progress with its highlighted mile markers at every half-mile. In total, the 3,200-acre state park has 15 miles of hiking and walking trails and a 363-acre lake.
Another popular choice is the Silver Comet Trail (4573 Mavell Road, Smyrna), which begins in nearby Smyrna and is more than 61 miles long, spanning more than three counties northwest of Atlanta. Named for the Silver Comet passenger train that traveled along a former railroad, the paved trail is often the site of cycling and foot races. This trail doesn't run through the city of Atlanta, but city officials are reportedly looking to build trails that connect to it.
The YMCA is also very useful, not just for tightening up glutes and having a place to run indoors when it rains, but also for offering travelers the convenience of visiting other locations. Yes, a lot of gyms offer that feature, but do they have the YMCA's pricing? There are 21 YMCAs throughout metro Atlanta, including five in the city. Another option is taking classes or pumping iron at one of 33 recreation centers operated by the Atlanta city government. Like the YMCA, the city-run facilities offer a variety of dance, swimming and aerobic classes that will get the blood flowing.
Where to Eat
Most restaurants nowadays include some type of "healthy" meal alternative. Just look at the latest offerings at popular fast-food chains. But if you are looking for an eatery that's undeniably organic, sometimes it's just best to go to one that has built a solid reputation for healthy food. Lov'n It Live (2796 E. Point St., East Point), located 10 minutes outside the city, is one of those places. It specializes in freshly prepared organic-living and vegan cuisine, but I've witnessed meat-eating former jocks having to stop themselves from licking the plate once they're done eating. Yeah, it's pretty good.
R. Thomas Deluxe Grill (1812 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta), a family-owned restaurant in Atlanta's Brookwood neighborhood, is a popular 24-hour spot with an expansive menu that includes free-range meat and organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and raw-food choices. R. Thomas is also known for its fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices, which are welcome after a workout.
In Atlanta's West End near the Atlanta University Center, Food for Life Supreme (880 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW, Atlanta) offers a variety of options for omnivores, carnivores and herbivores alike. Its colorful atmosphere and creative menu are draws for many people desiring improved health.
The Real Chow Baby, an all-you-can-eat American stir-fry restaurant, is another option for patrons with varying food needs. With locations in the West Midtown (1016 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta) and Virginia Highland (782 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta) neighborhoods, the Real Chow Baby gives patrons the choice of having a tasty salad or stir-fried veggies with rice and chicken.
Where to Shop
If you're someone who prefers preparing meals at home to eating out, you can't go wrong at Your Dekalb Farmers Market (3000 E. Ponce De Leon Ave., Decatur). No matter what your ethnicity or what part of the world you hail from, this grocer will have something familiar to you. The 140,000-square-foot market offers fruits, vegetables, spices, meats and other related products. Just remember to bring a jacket, even in the summer, because it's pretty chilly in there. And yes, it can get crowded!
Sevananda Natural Foods Market (467 Moreland Ave. NE, Atlanta) is a popular consumer-owned cooperative that sells herbs in bulk, an array of vitamins and supplements, and mostly organic and/or vegan grocery and foods. It's considered the city's first health food store. No matter where you are on the healthy-living spectrum, this health food coop, located in Atlanta's Little Five Points community, is a stop for all.
Atlanta also has a number of community gardens where residents purchase fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. A popular one is Truly Living Well, headed up by K. Rashid Nuri, which has five locations around metro Atlanta, including four acres in the Old Fourth Ward near the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (75 Hilliard St. NE, Atlanta).
Where to Get Checked Out
There are health screenings offered throughout the year in metro Atlanta that are sponsored by nonprofits; retailers like CVS, Rite Aid and Sam's Club; and local politicians. A slew of them took place in May and earlier in June. But don't fret — there are others scheduled for the remainder of the 2012. On Sept. 9 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., the Community Health & Men's Promotion Summit (CHAMPS) will have a health summit offering free health screenings for men at the Georgia World Congress Center (1 Georgia Dome Drive NW, Atlanta). Check the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and local community boards for details on additional screenings.
In case anyone has any doubts, and despite what statistics may show, Black Americans do exercise and lead healthy lives. Visit just about any gym or park in the city and you'll see African Americans of all ages and sizes and from various socioeconomic backgrounds getting in a workout. And like any good friend, metro Atlanta is supporting every step, jump and breaststroke they take along the way.
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Aisha I. Jefferson is an Atlanta-based contributor to The Root.