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Walk Kansas program offers health benefits

It's coming soon. K-State Research and Extension's fitness challenge -- Walk Kansas -- is scheduled to begin March 16 and will continue through May 10. Now is a great time to begin forming teams in order to meet the registration deadline of March 10.

The low-cost fitness program attracted more than 18,000 participants across the state last year. It also has become a popular worksite wellness program in Kansas, with many employers encouraging -- or sponsoring -- employees to participate. Last year, more than 225 people participated in Ellis County and logged enough miles to circle the globe.

A kick-off rally and mall walk will be offered from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at The Mall at Hays to bring attention to Walk Kansas. Shoppers can learn more about the eight-week program, enjoy a self-paced walk in the mall and earn chances to win prizes. Team registration materials also will be available.

Walk Kansas encourages teams of six friends, family members, co-workers or church-mates to log enough exercise to compile 423 miles in eight weeks -- equal to the distance across the state. If that seems too easy, teams can select from more ambitious challenges -- to log enough exercise to reach across the state and back (846 miles) or around the perimeter of Kansas. That's 1,200 miles.

Although introduced a decade ago to encourage walking, Walk Kansas has expanded also to count 15-minute intervals of moderate physical activity such as hiking, biking, swimming, water aerobics or other individual and team sports as 1 mile toward a Walk Kansas team goal.

The team approach helps make this fitness program flexible and fun. A little friendly peer pressure from teammates might be all it takes to encourage some of us to get moving. Being able to exercise alone or with others, on your own schedule and using your favorite activities also is a plus.

An additional feature of the Walk Kansas program is an emphasis on good nutrition along with exercise. Most Americans could be healthier simply by eating more fruits and vegetables each day. To encourage participants to include a diet rich in these healthful foods, cups of fruits and vegetables will be recorded along with minutes of exercise. The goal for each individual is to consume 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily. Most teams who enroll in Walk Kansas meet their goals. And people who have participated in the program in recent years often will say they look better, feel better, have more energy, improved sleep habits, lower blood pressure, and notice a difference in how their clothes feel.

Regular moderate physical activity also is known to reduce the risks of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

The cost to participate is affordable. A $18-per-team registration fee covers program materials, weekly email newsletters and local activities. An optional T-shirt -- this year ¥s color choices include turquoise, purple and grey -- also can be purchased for an additional $7 for standard sizes, $8.50 for 2X and 3X sizes.

New this year, a student leadership team from Fort Hays State University will offer extra activities to enhance the Ellis County Walk Kansas experience. A dinner and training meeting is planned for team captains and all participants can attend a noon program on easy exercises and a group walk to the KSU Agricultural Research Center. Full details about these extra activities are included in the Walk Kansas materials.

Registration packets are available at the Ellis County Extension office, 601 Main Ste. A, in Hays. Teams can pick up a registration packet anytime to be returned with completed registration forms and fees by March 10.

For more information, call the County Extension Office at (785) 628-9430.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences.