Feature Article - March 2010
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Steps Toward Wellness

Communities & Facilities Take Action to Improve Health

By Dawn Klingensmith

Anticipate–and Eliminate–Excuses

"People look for all sorts of excuses not to exercise," Goodemote asserted. (He seeks to eliminate them all: As a side project, he started a nonprofit organization that fixes cracked sidewalks, which discourage walkers and joggers.) Therefore, community wellness programs need to be inclusive and accessible, and yet target certain subgroups' specific issues at the same time. They should also be affordable or—ideally—free.

Get Fit Fulton County is a 90-day program with beginning, intermediate and advanced tracks, as well as a track designed specifically for seniors. In addition, participants may choose from among several supplemental, or "a la carte," classes and events. One option is a field trip to the grocery store, where a nutritionist-cum-tour guide helps people identify healthier foods, evaluate health claims and compare nutrition labels. All program offerings are free "so that cost does not become an obstacle or excuse," Goodemote said.

Measurable results are another hallmark of a good wellness program. Get Fit Fulton County will gauge the success of the program with before-and-after screenings of participants, which will include body fat analysis, blood pressure readings, range-of-motion evaluations and the like.

Patti Harper, co-chair of Weatherford, Oklahoma's low-budget, volunteer-driven Walking for Wellness program, shares Goodemote's mindset about perceived barriers: There's no charge to participate "because we did not want anyone to have an excuse not to walk," she said. She also applies the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Sweetie—to recruit the greatest number of participants. "Walking is the easiest form of exercise," she said. Plus, the way the program is set up, residents can participate as much or as little as possible, subscribing to the theory that some degree of physical activity is better than none. However, the program is also set up to spark a desire to be a team player and help the community as a whole rack up as many miles as possible. "We wanted to show as a community how much we could walk together," Harper said.

Material incentives and spirited competition also factor into the program's success. All participants receive free pedometers to monitor their mileage, which Walking for Wellness procures through grant support.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Participants track their mileage and submit monthly tallies at drop-off sites or online. Participants are eligible for random monthly drawings for gift cards and other incentives donated by local businesses.

Competition comes into play with the annual Mayor's Challenge, which in 2007 entailed walking 100 miles within a certain time frame to celebrate Oklahoma's centennial. More recently, the Mayor's Challenge has involved friendly rivalries with neighboring towns to see which municipality can log the most miles.

But, foremost, the Walking for Wellness program is designed to be flexible and fun. Participants can walk on their own or in groups, and once a month there's a group "fun walk" highlighting different places in Weatherford. The rotation includes the outdoor track at the local university, the YMCA's indoor track, woodsy walking trails and scenic neighborhood sidewalk treks.

"We try to do different things," Harper said, "to show that you don't just have to walk on a treadmill. There are so many ways to change up a walking routine."

Past events include walking along the golf cart tracks at the local golf course, a harvest-time corn maze challenge, strolling a museum campus and, afterward, being rewarded with free admission, water walking in the municipal pool, and bundling up for a foot tour of residential holiday lights displays.

Each of the monthly fun walks includes an educational program. For example, prior to circling the high school track, participants meet in the cafeteria to discuss running basics, such as how to select appropriate shoes.

Walking for Wellness is administered through Weatherford's parks and recreation department, but volunteers actually conceived and developed the program, and a volunteer committee essentially runs it. T-shirt sales help defray costs; however, a local Walmart, hospital, university, YMCA and bank keep the program afloat through grant support, donations and incentives, publicity, a Web-based platform through which participants track miles and facility space.

Launched in September 2007, Walking for Wellness in its first year drew 327 adult participants and 1,090 public school students, collectively logging a total of 61,631 miles.