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The evolution of Australia’s most active and healthy city

Emily Toxward | April 2018

Arguably Australia’s most health-conscious city, Emily Toxward unravels the crucial role the City of Gold Coast’s Active and Healthy Program has played in transforming its burgeoning sports, fitness and wellness industry into an accessible and affordable amenity for all.

It’s by no accident the Gold Coast has evolved into one of Australia’s most active cities, sure its picturesque coastline location is naturally a place that encourages a healthy lifestyle, but back in 2005 an ambitious and exciting vision was forged for the community.

Aptly named the Active and Healthy Lifestyle Program, it was developed by the City with input from a range of community and commercial partners who are as passionate about the movement today as they were back then.  The City remains the curator, keeper and custodian of the now hugely successful wellness social movement, that every year attracts more than 280,000 participants.

The Active and Health Lifestyle Program (A&H) is an important enabler to get people out and move more, aiming to reinforce the message that everyone needs to look after themselves to live a long life.

One of the greatest outcomes, in addition to getting people more active, is that program providers are reporting that many people are becoming more social, with anecdotal evidence of  corresponding positive mental health changes. Those who take part feel like a valued part of the community; they are engaged and make connections with others. Friendships and bonds are forged and Gold Coasters feel proud to be a part of something.

Rod Ferguson, from the Australian Tai Chi Academy, could not agree more; he believes having a community packed with people doing more outdoor exercises makes it a better place to live. Every week between 100-to-200 people gather at Kurrawa Park in Broadbeach and/or Burleigh Heads to attend one of his Academy’s tai chi classes.

“But we’re not just teaching tai chi, in some instances we’re teaching older Gold Coasters how to age well, especially in regards to joint and digestive programs and how to prevent falls. We are delivering evidence-based programs that are well founded with modern research,” he says.

“Providing outdoor activities in local parks and reserves is also a way of getting people who don’t usually exercise to become more active. Not everyone is suited to or wants to attend a gym, and programs such as tai chi, yoga and Pilates gives them a way to live and breathe an active lifestyle, complete with one of the best ocean views in the world.”

Mr Ferguson is also optimistic that the city is in a good position to ride the coattails of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, because it’s already offering the entire community a range of health, fitness and lifestyle opportunities.

“I believe once the Games are over those who have been inspired to get more active will find something they love to do in their local area. The beauty of the A&H program is that there is something for everyone and the events run for an entire year, which puts the message out there that they are on all the time,” he says.

What also sets the A&H program apart from others run across the country is that it promotes other activities, not just those that it subsidies or funds. Mr Ferguson says the unique and positive partnership the City has with local health and fitness industry providers is clear evidence of its long-term commitment and determination to creating a healthier city.

One such positive relationship is with Fitness First, which recently introduced a program that offers Gold Coast children aged 14 to 18 a free gym membership during the school holidays. The fitness club’s State Manager James Ivers says the decision to encourage young Gold Coasters to get more active is in line with the City’s long-term strategy to get everyone moving more every day.

“The beauty of the City’s A&H program is there are offerings for all different ages and capabilities; kids can get involved in a good variety of classes and activities outdoors or inside. It doesn’t matter if they are fit at the moment or working towards that, everyone can participate at some level,” he says.

Game On is a new initiative to the program, specially created to celebrate the Commonwealth Games and encourage residents to be more active more often.  It offers a range of Commonwealth Games inspired sport and fitness activities for all residents, all ages and all abilities.

In addition, Mr Ivers is confident and excited about the legacy the Commonwealth Games will leave on the city. As well as bringing locals closer to elite athletes, he believes it will also showcase some of the top-class sporting amenities recently built across the city.

“I think the legacy is going to be very strong for years to come across the sports industry and I believe it will filter into more people taking up Active and Healthy initiatives. But most importantly I’m sure it will bring the community together and encourage them to get behind what’s already on offer out there,” he says.

And what’s out there isn’t just ways for Gold Coasters to get fit; in the past four years the A&H program has started to offer a range of health and holistic-type activities such as arts in the park, music classes, anti-bullying talks and nutritional advice.

Anna D’Arcy, from My Nutrition Clinic, offers A&H workshops that follow trends as well as presenting facts so ‘people don’t get led down the garden path with fad diets’. She says a recent talk on gut health was very popular and it was great to be able to put the record straight on what works and what doesn’t.

“The number of free and cheap activities available in the parks is amazing. There are so many activities and events available up and down the coast. And with school kids I really have appreciated the free activities in the school holidays.”

Anna D'Arcy

Having recently returned from 15 years in London, Mrs D’Arcy says the Gold Coast’s focus on health and fitness is very noticeable in terms of the amount of structured and supervised activities, in particular that there are ‘swimming enclosures at the parks and I can see that a lot more people use them for laps than just paddling’.

Simone Kelly, from Get Raw Bootcamps, offers classes for active parents at Palm Beach through the A&H program, and says she’s impressed with the incredible amount of effort that’s been put into maintaining, improving and growing public amenities such gardens, toilet blocks, drink stations and other public facilities.

“The City has made a concerted effort to provide an environment that is safe and encourages people to be active and fit. The tidy appearance of ablutions blocks is impressive, there are now plenty of places to get fresh water, parks are hazard free, and more shaded areas are available. It’s obvious in the past 10 years the city has invested a lot of time and money to create an environment conducive for a healthy lifestyle,” she says.

A born and bred Gold Coaster, Ms Kelly believes the dramatic change in infrastructure to support sports and activities, such as the city’s 1000km cycle path network, isn’t just in response to population growth, but a strategic way to ensure it’s as easy as possible for locals to try a new activity or take up a sport.

“How good is it that you can almost cycle from one end of the coast to the other? The Gold Coast has smashed it. And I have no doubt once the Commonwealth Games are over more people will start to notice the fitness equipment along Burleigh beach or the monkey bars and exercise stations at their local park,” she says.

“Having an influx of healthy and fit people might also encourage others to visit parks they’ve never been to before and when they do they’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn about the free activities that are already offered in their local area.”

Whatever legacy the Games leaves behind; what’s guaranteed to remain is a well-utilised and much loved Active and Healthy program that’s forever evolving and growing as the needs of the Gold Coast’s diverse and dynamic population changes.

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