Like daffodils, robins or new leaves on the trees, another sign of spring soon will be here — the annual Walk Kansas program from K-State Research and Extension. Now is the time to begin forming your teams for this statewide health and wellness program.

Walk Kansas runs from March 19 to May 13. It’s a program that’s open to anyone who’s interested in working toward or maintaining a healthy lifestyle at any fitness level. Last year, more than 14,000 people participated in the accessible program.

The eight-week program is team-based, with six people to a team. Participants do not even have to live in Kansas. Many teams form with family members or friends in other parts of the country and around the world.

“Technology connects us,” said Sharolyn Jackson, K-State Research and Extension family and consumer science specialist and Walk Kansas coordinator.

“Walk Kansas addresses critical issues in our state. Less than half of Kansas adults meet the minimum recommendations for physical activity (150 minutes a week of moderate exercise) and only 19 percent eat enough fruits and vegetables. These simple behaviors affect health.”

Chronic disease is responsible for more than 70 percent of health care costs. If Americans were to stop smoking, exercise regularly and eat well, they could prevent up to 80 percent of heart disease and stroke, 80 percent of type 2 diabetes and 40 percent of cancers.

“Think of health as something you earn every day, just like you work to bring home a paycheck,” Jackson said. “If you practice healthy lifestyle behaviors, you can delay and even prevent chronic disease. If you have an illness, symptoms can be managed better if you make choices that support a healthy lifestyle.”

The cost for Ellis County Walk Kansas participants is $8 per person. Purchasing an optional T-shirt is an additional cost. Participants receive a weekly emailed newsletter along with local events and classes. Registration will open for Ellis County teams on Monday. Teams are encouraged to register by March 10.

Teammates do not have to walk or exercise together, but are encouraged to connect and support each other. Participants log minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise daily and report online or to their team captain. Activities besides walking, such as strengthening exercises, yoga, bike riding, team sports, swimming and others, count toward Walk Kansas minutes.

The goal is to meet one of three challenges the team sets for itself before the program starts:

Challenge 1: Each person reaches the minimum goal for physical activity — 2.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week. Collectively the team’s exercise distance would add up to 423 miles — the equivalent of the distance across the state of Kansas.

Challenge 2: Take the equivalent of a meandering trek diagonally across the state from Troy to Elkhart. Each person logs four hours of activity per week, which would take the team total to 750 miles.

Challenge 3: Walk the equivalent of the perimeter of Kansas — 1,200 miles — with each person logging six hours of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week.

Walk Kansas began in 2001 and now reaches more than 14,000 people a year. More than 254,000 people have participated since it began.

“Health brings a freedom we often take for granted until we no longer have it,” Jackson said. “Preserving and protecting your health is what Walk Kansas is all about.”

For information on how to register your team, contact the Ellis County Extension Office, (785) 628-9430, or check out the Walk Kansas team materials at www.ellis.ksu.edu.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.