Marion County has 17 teams and just over 100 people participating in this year’s Walk Kansas fitness challenge.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Kansas State University Research and Extension program, Walk Kansas challenges each six-person team to combine their distances to reach at least 423 miles, the distance between the state’s east and west borders.
The program began March 13 and will end May 7.
Marion County didn’t participate in the inaugural year, but over the past nine years the local program has drawn around 20 teams, according to Nancy Pihl, who is in charge of the program as the county’s family and consumer sciences agent.
For many, Walk Kansas has become the first step toward improving health.
“The concept for the eight-week effort is fairly simple, and that’s one reason why it has worked so well,” said Sharolyn Jackson, state program coordinator.
“Together, the teams accomplish what few could do alone,” said Jackson, who also noted that the timing, in the spring when people are anxious to get outside, and the low cost are program advantages.
There’s more to it than simply walking, as team members build a foundation for incorporating healthy lifestyle changes into everyday life, Jackson said.
So how does Walk Kansas work?
• Teams of six people track minutes of physical activity and food choices during the eight-week challenge.
Like most counties, teams in Marion County consist of coworkers, similar businesses, churches, families and schools. The Peabody-Burns schools have had as many as three teams involved in one year, Pihl said.
• Teams choose their goals for physical activity. Challenge 1, which Marion County promotes, meets basic physical activity guidelines of 21?2 hours (150 minutes) of moderate/vigorous activity per person each week. This goal would enable a team to walk the east-west distance of the state.
Challenge 2 requires each member to log six hours of physical activity each week. This goal would enable the team, collectively, to walk 1,200 miles or the distance around the perimeter of the state.
• Walking isn’t the only activity that counts. Other forms of moderate and vigorous activities count as well, as do strengthening exercises. Any activity should be performed for a minimum of 10 consecutive minutes.
• Participants record daily fruit and vegetable consumption.
“Most Americans don’t eat near the minimum recommendation for fruit and vegetables,” Pihl said. “Keeping track helps you realize you may be eating two servings a day rather than (the recommended) five servings a day.
“It’s a good reminder for people, and usually during the course of eight weeks I see those numbers increase,” she added. “People realize they aren’t eating as much and they start eating more.”
• Team members report progress to their team captain each week. The team captain reports totals to the local program each week.
• Friendly competition can be motivating, so team results are recorded on the Walk Kansas website (walkkansas.org).
“We don’t have a winner because it’s not a competition,” Pihl said. “It’s just to encourage people to get out there and do regular physical activity. There’s no winners because they’re all winners.”
Each local program features a weekly drawing where participants can win a Walk Kansas prize related to health and exercise. That could be a duffle bag, an exercise kit with a pedometer and exercise aids.
Pihl usually organizes a kick-off event on the first official day of the program. This year’s was at the USD 408 Gym and Aquatic Center.
“It’s kind of a fun event,” Pihl said. “I always do some healthy recipes and provide some information on physical activity, like choosing walking shoes and topics like that.
“Then they can actually start their walking right there.”
Pihl’s goal is to have 25 teams participating in 2012.
“If anybody is interested, they need to be watching next February for promotion, get a team together and sign up,” she said.