Community Based Fitness by Dr. Joyner

Posted by Michael Joyner, M.D. on September 6th, 2012 | 

I have been bombarding you with statistics about inactivity and obesity over the last few weeks. Today we have a guest post from Drs. Carrie Quinn and Sandy Billinger from the University of Kansas about a novel approach to community based fitness in Lawrence, Kansas. I first heard about this program when I was at the med-school in Kansas City giving a talk at their “Exercise is Medicine” symposia last May. The presentation on “Red Dog Days” was so impressive that I thought it would be a good thing to share. There are lots of messages here, but perhaps the main one is that with a little creativity, community fitness programs can be generated for little or no cost. They can also be multi-generational and fun. So, I guess the only thing left to say is “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” and let Sandy and Carrie tell the story.

Dog Days
One Lawrence, Kansas resident has managed to become the envy of exercise professionals everywhere. Mr. Don “Red Dog” Gardner has done what most thought was impossible: built a free, community-based exercise program that has withstood the test of time.

Nearly thirty years ago Red Dog started using his military training and sports medicine acumen to help six local football players achieve increased fitness. Year after year the numbers increased. Students brought siblings, siblings and students brought parents, parents brought friends, and friends brought neighbors until Red Dog’s basic fitness program exploded into a multi-generational, all-are-welcome, free exercise program serving upwards of 500 people per day.
Always ambitious, Red Dog’s desire lead exercise en masse didn’t end with the development of his program, known as Dog Days. In July of 2009, Red Dog and his loyal group of exercisers made a run at a World Record: the world’s largest workout. Though Guiness overlooked the accomplishment, Red Dog’s World’s Largest Workout boasted numbers of over 2700 individuals exercising at the same time. That’s community-based success.
Exercise professionals are in awe of this phenomenon. We struggle to get our patients and clients to exercise regularly. We battle the roadblocks of time and location and convenience in an effort to make exercise more accessible. And here is one individual that makes the development of a community-based exercise program look effortless. He says, in essence,

“Come exercise with us, and bring your friends. It’s free and built just for you. No pressure. No worries. Do what you can, at your own pace, and meet hundreds of others who will support you and every step you take.”

Though, to the exercisers, the program organization looks effortless, but Red Dog knows the success is due to a very precise combination of ingredients. It starts with a commitment, not only his own commitment to planning and organizing daily events for 500 exercisers, but commitment from his all-volunteer staff. A staff that is absolutely essential to the success of the program. Red Dog’s formula for a successful community-exercise program are: 

  • A charismatic leader 
  • A behind the scenes organizer 
  • Volunteers, volunteers, volunteers 
  • Strong set of rules and values 
  • Facilities 
  • Donor support 
  • Social opportunities 

And what’s the payoff for the exerciser? A coveted t-shirt. Not sold in stores and never simply given away. Worn proudly as a badge of honor, those who earn a Dog Day’s t-shirt know the meaning of accomplishment. They’ve gutted out the workouts and earned their place in line. Remember, too, Dog Day’s is free. That means, the design, purchase and distribution of these t-shirts is due to the diligent fundraising of Red Dog and his team. And this is where community involvement really gels and comes full circle. Asking the local businesses to support the community effort makes everyone accountable for this exercise movement that started with 6 football players back in 1984.
If you find yourself in Lawrence, Kansas, even if just passing through, look up Red Dog, spend some time at his Dog Days, and you’ll see that getting people to exercise really isn’t that hard after all.

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