Boston to Drop 1 Million Pounds, Get Smarter

Boston jogging The city’s goal: To be fit and happy like these joggers. Upper arm tattoo not included. (Photo via Thinkstock.)

Put on your running shoes, Boston: We have a ton of weight to lose. (Five hundred tons, to be exact).

Today, Mayor Menino and the Boston Public Health Commission are starting a new program, Boston Moves for Health, with the ultimate goal of helping city residents drop 1 million pounds. To reach that rather enormous (and jiggly) goal, the city built a new website featuring exercise and nutrition tips and videos, walking and running routes, and tracking software to help you watch calories and your activity levels. Those tracking tools incorporate a lot of elements that senior editor Janelle Nanos wrote about in So Appy Together, her March feature on using a smartphone to improve her life.

Boston, of course, is fairly healthy compared to the rest of the country: Forbes recently ranked our city as the third healthiest in America, while the United Health Foundation slotted Massachusetts as the fifth healthiest state. And very encouragingly, we recently reversed a three-decade long trend of rising obesity in children under the age of six. Still, there’s plenty of pounds to be put toward that 1 million goal, considering that more than 22 percent of the state is obese, which is nearly double the obesity rate in 1996.

Thankfully, we won’t just be dropping pounds: Scientists know believe that exercise improves brain function and actually helps to grow neurons. As Gretchen Reynolds wrote in the New York Times this weekend:

For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn’t just a relationship; it is the relationship. Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons — and the makeup of brain matter itself — scientists in just the past few months have discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhance cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.

To the rest of America: Yeah, you should worry. One of the healthiest and smartest cities is about to get healthier and smarter. You have been warned.