A new citywide wellness program aims to get Tupelo citizens, from kids to seniors, biking, swimming, doing Zumba, striking yoga poses and more each week.
Mayor Jason Shelton, who took office in July 2013, was so impressed with the successful heath initiative launched by predecessor Jack Reed Jr. that he decided to expand the push to keep Tupelo the healthiest city in the state. Through Tupelo Fit, the city is working hard to encourage residents to get healthier by sampling a new – free – fitness activity every week.
“Health and wellness initiatives make the city more livable and improve the quality of life here,” Shelton says. “They affect every aspect of life in the city, even the economy. Healthy people are more productive, have fewer sick days and have more energy while they are at work.”
Tupelo Promotes Exercise for All
They also have more fun, given the enthusiastic response to Tupelo Fit’s very wide range of activities, among them kick-boxing, dance, hiking, Pilates, Aqua Zumba, Jazzercise, basketball clinics and walk/run events. Miss Mississippi 2013, Chelsea Rick, and Miss Tupelo 2013, Kristen Furr, have made appearances at events, but perhaps the most popular celebrity to participate is the mayor himself.
“There is a little embarrassment on my part,” he says sheepishly, admitting that he carries “a few pounds” more than he’d like. “I’ve been covered doing yoga, Zumba and today I did a handstand.” (In fact, since this story was written in early 2014, Shelton has lost over 30 pounds.)
Tupelo Fit serves another purpose beyond wellness.
“We have a dual focus, to promote health and wellness and also to showcase each of our parks and public facilities,” Shelton says. "We try to go to every part of town and remind people that we have 11 parks, an aquatic facility and lots of opportunities for recreation and fitness.”
In a related initiative, the city, through the Convention and Visitors Bureau, is developing the 365-Day Approach. The goal is to develop a calendar of daily events and activities around the city that will appeal to a wide range of interests, from cultural events to baseball games to festivals.
“The idea is to encourage people to get out and do something every day, all year round,” says Shelton.
Tupelo Parks Department Wellness Initiatives
The city’s Parks and Recreation department is also committed to Tupelo’s wellness. Its Health on a Shelf program, which encourages local restaurants, convenience stores and concession stands to sell healthy alternatives to the usual grab-and-go staples, is growing.
“We want to let people see that there are healthier ways to eat,” says department head Alex Farned. “Instead of having a grilled cheeseburger at the ball field, you can have a chicken wrap, or a granola bar instead of a chocolate bar.”
The department is also becoming more involved with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” fitness program. It works with Tupelo Healthworks! to promote healthy lifestyles, hosts a number of runs and walks, and works to promote awareness of local farmers and the farm-to-fork movement.
“You need to find where you fit in your community,” Farned says. “We’ve been doing this for four or five years now, and we’re still figuring out what works.”