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Georgians walk their way to better health

By Allie Byrd
University of Georgia

Georgians all across the state are getting in shape, eating better and working toward a healthier lifestyle with the help of UGA Cooperative Extension fitness program Walk Georgia. In the spring and fall 2008 programs combined, over 6,000 participants walked their way to better health.

Mary Jane Wheeler of Tifton, Ga., participated in both sessions and has lost 50 pounds in the process.

“My cholesterol is down by 30 points, and my doctor is pleased with me,” Wheeler says. “I feel better, look better; and I have a whole new, pretty wardrobe.”

The 8-week program is designed to increase physical activity and get Georgia residents moving. Participants can form teams with friends, families and co-workers and challenge each other to get fit, or sign up as individuals. Charting a virtual course through the Georgia mountains or down to the coast, participants travel across Georgia by logging their activity online.

“My job is mostly sitting at a computer; and I, like everyone else, have a stressful job, which I dealt with by eating comfort foods,” Wheeler says. “I did not participate in any form of exercise and was quite a bit overweight. My cholesterol was 234, and my doctor was threatening to put me on medication.”

Now, Wheeler walks every day and says she misses exercise on the days she is not able to walk. She walks about three miles a day six days per week and eats smaller, healthier meals, she says.

In addition to walking, activities such as aerobics, biking, jogging and weightlifting can be logged as well. The time spent exercising is translated into miles online as members move around the state virtually.

Dee Dee Gaines, Athens-Clarke County wellness coordinator, offered Walk Georgia as part of a county employee wellness initiative.

“We promoted the program and were thrilled with the number of employees who participated. It was such an easy program and a great way to encourage exercise,” Gaines says.

Gaines says individuals and teams of employees have already been asking when Walk Georgia will start again.

“The enthusiasm the program created was wonderful,” Gaines says. “We are ready to get back to logging our activity each day. Bring on Walk Georgia 2009.”

The Walk Georgia Spring 2009 session will begin in March. Registration will be open from February 15 to March 9. Participants can begin logging activity on March 1. To register and learn more about the program, visit www.walkgeorgia.org.

To contact your local extension office, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1 or visit www.ugaextension.com.

(Allie Byrd is a writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Allie Byrd is a writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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