By Michael W. Cropp

In the words of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets.” It’s the perfect time for biking, running, swimming and other fitness activities.

The benefits of exercise are well-documented. People who maintain an active lifestyle have a much lower risk of developing chronic disease. Even small improvements can significantly lower the risk of disease and death.

Landmark research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (“Study Says U.S. Lags in Good Health Choices,” Buffalo News, July 11) reports life expectancy in our nation is up, but chronic conditions, including many caused by unhealthy behaviors, account for a larger portion of health issues than other nations surveyed. The United States ranked 27th of 34 nations in high body mass index, an indicator of obesity, and 29th on blood sugar, which is tied to diabetes.

It’s estimated up to 75 percent of U.S. medical costs are due to chronic disease. By taking greater personal responsibility and creating a culture of health, we can live longer and reverse the high cost of health care.

The American College of Sport Medicine recently released its annual American Fitness Index, a ranking of community fitness in 50 metropolitan areas. Western New York ranked 23rd overall, 19th on “community/environment indicators,” and 27th on “personal health indicators.”

A number of initiatives under way and on the drawing board locally will undoubtedly help our region move up – and eventually challenge for the top spot in future ACSM rankings.

One is GObike Buffalo, a non-profit effort to create healthy, environmentally sustainable, community-friendly transportation options. By providing residents with an efficient and fun way to exercise, we are also providing economic, environmental and transportation benefits to our community.

By 2015, an effort to convert former railways along the canal area of Tonawanda to bike trails will be completed. Known as “rails to trails,” the project will run from the North Buffalo Greenway to the Town and City of Tonawanda and, once completed, will feature multiple access points.

To help get moving this summer, YMCA Buffalo Niagara is again offering its Fitness in the Parks exercise program at locations throughout the region. Participants are invited to take part in free, 60-minute fitness classes taught by YMCA certified instructors, including Zumba, yoga and Pilates.

Independent Health supports these and many other community initiatives intended to engage individuals and families in their health and well-being. By taking action to reshape the health of our community, we can further decrease rates of preventable illness, and make health care more affordable.

Michael W. Cropp, M.D., is president and CEO of Independent Health.