More than 2,500 Georgia residents are improving their health by exercising with the help of the University of Georgia’s Walk Georgia program and their local UGA Extension agent.
“What makes Walk Georgia so successful is the fact that it is locally driven,” said Maria Bowie, Walk Georgia program coordinator. “County agents have the freedom to design and promote it however they want.”
Walk Georgia is an online program that encourages participants to walk, or complete other forms of exercise, daily. Participants log their time on the Walk Georgia website and it’s converted to miles. The program also offers group competition.
Jan Baggarly, now-retired UGA Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County, promoted Walk Georgia to change county residents’ unhealthy lifestyles and decrease the occurrence of health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. During 2014, Bibb County Walk Georgia participants logged the equivalent of 85,525 miles in spring and 78,405 miles in the fall. And, the average “walker” lost 3 pounds in the spring and 7 pounds in the fall.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be difficult,” Baggarly said. “It can be as simple as walking, and Walk Georgia is great to motivate people. If you have someone to do it with, you can encourage each other. You can do things together and feed off of each other.”
In 2014, Bibb County participants who completed six weeks of 150 minutes of weekly activity, earned incentives like water bottles, hand sanitizer and Walk Georgia T-shirts. Bibb County Extension also hosted a recognition event at the end of the 12-week session, recognizing top individuals in the local Walk Georgia program.
Businesses, colleges, individuals and government entities also took part in Bibb County’s Walk Georgia.
“I have seen several people that were top individuals lose 50 to 60 pounds,” said Baggarly, of the professional participants. “When people are more active, they lose more weight.”
According to UGA’s Obesity Initiative, Georgia has the 18th highest obesity rate in the nation. More than 30 percent of the state’s population is obese. With that knowledge, Nancy Bridges, UGA Extension family and consumer sciences agent for Madison and Oglethorpe counties, strives to provide a fun way for residents to stay active.
“Keeping a healthy lifestyle is important to individuals’ lives and to our economy,” Bridges said. “Overweight adults are more prone to diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, diseases and cancers, increased risk for hypertension and low self-esteem. Obesity contributes to the cost of health care. Overweight people cost our economy $10.4 billion It costs our economy $10.4 billion because of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.”
In the spring of 2014, residents of Madison and Oglethorpe counties logged more than 9,000 miles — the equivalent of walking the Appalachian Trail three times.
Some 57 Madison and Oglethorpe county residents recently enrolled in Walk Georgia. Of those, 47 actively participated, meaning they exercised at least 75 percent of the required time during the 12-week period.
Oglethorpe and Madison county residents were rewarded for their participation. Completing at least eight of the 12 weeks earned participants a gift card to a local sporting goods store.
“It helps to have an incentive and see results when people aren’t used to exercising,” said Bridges, who handed out 25 gift cards. “It makes them more likely to continue exercising.”
During the 12-week-program, the average participant lost 3 pounds and logged 16 miles per week. Since Walk Georgia began in 2008, both counties have a combined total of 321 participants.
Bowie receives feedback from participants and is continually making improvements to Walk Georgia. “The program is in a position to grow and expand,” she said.
Previously, UGA Extension offered Walk Georgia during 12-week sessions in the spring and fall. A $1 million, three-year grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation has allowed the program to expand and be available year-round.
Walk Georgia’s website will soon link to individual Facebook accounts so participants can share their physical activity achievements with their friends and family. The website will also be implementing a leaderboard, so members can compare their progress with others.
To sign up to participate in Walk Georgia, visit walkgeorgia.org.
(Jordan Hill is an intern with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)