The light step of sneakers on tile corridors echoes over people sitting in the sixth floor corridor at City Hall as they wait to report for jury duty.
“If you walk a little faster you’ll get your heart rate up,” Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown says to the group of women behind her as she hefts a ten-pound weight in the air.
Blondell Reynolds Brown is currently serving her fourth term on Philadelphia City Council. She’s the only woman to serve as an At-Large Philadelphia Councilmember since 2000, the only woman serving in City Council Leadership, and the Majority Whip.
Oh, and, she also pioneered and leads a free midday walking group at City Hall twice a week.
And your excuse for not working out was … ?
Reynolds Brown launched her “Noonwalk” power-walking group in September, coinciding with the start of a new City Council session. It will continue through December 20. Her group walks on the sixth floor of City Hall in a continuous loop every Tuesday and Friday from noon until 1 p.m. Each completed lap is the equivalent of four city blocks of cardio. The Noonwalk group averages 2.5 miles each day, or five miles a week.
Why now? The Councilwoman wanted to draw more attention to the need for Philadelphians to exercise more and eat healthier, and to set an example to help change the obesity rates among children in the city. (We were categorized as the fattest city in the country as recently as 2010, with a particularly high percentage among children.)
“Adults have to lead by example,” she says. “Those of us in positions of influence need to prop up fitness and staying healthy to every extent that we can.”
The Councilwoman, a former professional dancer with The Philadelphia Dance Company, has always been invested in health and exercise. She brought that interest to City Council with her menu-labeling bill, which resulted in the requirement of chain restaurants to disclose nutrition information for the food and drinks they sell. The city also won a grant from the National Institutes of Health to research and combat obesity among schoolchildren in the city as a result of the bill.
She wanted to commit to fitness for her own health, she says, as well as to demonstrate personal fitness as a priority for working men and women in the city — no matter how busy or stressed we are. During particularly busy Noonwalk days, she will even schedule walking meetings if she has to — as long as people are willing to walk with her.
“Many times, we can’t control our schedules. But building fitness in my schedule is something I can control,” the Councilwoman says. “I schedule my dentist appointments; I schedule my nail appointments; I can schedule an hour of walking twice a week.”
Reynolds Brown’s Noonwalk helps those who show up stay committed to their workouts and weight loss goals by relying on the support of new — and old — friends in the Philadelphia community. Many also participate in her “Moxie Women” mentoring and networking group for women.
Valerie Christmas, a retired Philadelphia school district assistant principle, and a friend of the Councilwoman’s since their days at Philadelphia Girls’ High, said that the group helps her get up and move — and work on staying slim. Diana Taylor and her sister Emilee Taylor are both retired Philadelphia school district employees who have known the Councilwoman since their sorority days at Penn State.
Diana says, “I enjoy the camaraderie. It becomes not even exercise when you’re conversing and listening to music. By the time you’re finished, you don’t realize it but you’ve gotten in a good workout.”
Reynolds Brown also has her own goal: to lose 10 pounds by December — just in time for the holiday parties.
“I missed working out on a regular basis,” she says. “My life is full and busy — but you can’t use that as an excuse. I taught dance for 20 years, up until I ran for public office. I performed for a while, and when your body can’t perform any longer, you teach. Then you teach for as long as you can. When you can’t do that any more, you try to figure out some other ways to build physical fitness into your life. You have to.”
To find out more about the Noonwalk group, follow @CouncilwomanBRB on Twitter and use the hashtag #NOONWALKPHL. All the details for how to join in are here. (Note: The flier makes it seem like it’s women only, but we’re told men are more than welcome to join in the fun.)
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