Being physically active is one of the most important things individuals can do to improve their health. Exercising in a group provides increased motivation, improved mental health and can help individuals stay committed. According to the World Population Review and World Health Organization the United States is the twelfth highest county with obesity rates. The University of Tennessee Extension in Johnson County, Tennessee has a few community walking events they host every year that boost physical activity. Hosting events is a great way to encourage individuals to get up and move. Open events provide a sense of competition, community and encouragement. Having partnerships and sponsors is a great way to provide some free incentive items to participants and this encourages participation and active engagement.
The great thing about these initiatives is that participants can learn and join the programs in a variety of ways. Johnson County started with these walking events in 2016 and have marketed the various programs in many ways. Newspapers, fliers, e-blasts, social media posts, word-of-mouth and company wellness programs are great places to start. Marketing and recruitment is most successful with individual contact. Working through health departments, churches, Sunday school classes, education classrooms, seniors centers, community groups and more are also great ways to get participants and have others helping spread the word and recruit with you.
Running a marathon can be super intimidating to individuals who are just starting exercise programs or are unable to run. The Miles to Marathon program is a month-long challenge. During the month, participants choose to either walk, run or bike their miles. The goal is to be able to complete 32, or more, miles over the course of the month. This goal is completely achievable for those wanting to start moving and establish good habits. Did you know that walking a mile a day only takes about 20 minutes?
We encouraged participants to use several locally themed hashtags, such as #healthyselfie as they track their miles. Using #hashtags is a super easy way for participants to feel more connected, promote your event on social media and share their results more broadly. You can use #exercise or #marathonmonth for a more commonly used hashtag, or get really creative and locally brand your hashtag! One that we have used is #GoJoCoTN. Using hashtags allows for anyone to find your events by simply searching that specific hashtag. Conducting walking programs, such as marathon month, is a great way to partner with local parks, hiking trails, National parks and your local tourism groups. Many parks and trails will sponsor a day, week or annual pass to your winner(s). Several of these parks also offer guided hikes, trails or have maps that can be beneficial to your participants.
After participating in this challenge, individuals report they are losing weight, reducing stress, improving their sleep, getting a chance to explore nature and spend more time with friends or family members. During times of physical distancing, we received feedback that individuals were not only walking for themselves, but they were taking the whole family with them.
Walk Across TN
This is a 6-week walking challenge designed for teams to participate together to start forming healthy habits. Recruitment can include businesses, church groups, Sunday school classes, community groups, families or groups of friends. Walking groups are made up of 8 people, teams are welcome to be smaller if they choose. One individual per team takes the role of team captain and is responsible for collecting team member’s weekly miles and reporting to the organization host. Extension is a great partner for hosting the event, local health departments often partner in hosting. Prizes are sponsored by local attractions, restaurants, or physical activity venues. The competition is designed to have the teams in competition for top miles walked. As the hosting organization, we send a weekly update to team captains, post to social media and send mid-week healthy lifestyle tips in an e-blast. When the program is complete, participants fill out an end-of-program-survey where they report of what has changed. Our participants in the 2020 Walk Across TN reported weight loss, a decrease in chronic condition symptoms, reduced stress and overall improved mental health.
Holiday Hold ‘Em Challenge
In a recent partnership between eight counties in Northeast TN, participants joined in a four-week challenge that focused on four areas of health. The team of agents designed a Facebook Group “Holiday Hold’Em Challenge” as the place to track those involved with the program and limit exposure/increase privacy to the social media engagement. The program was advertised through social media, newsletters, and word of mouth. There were eighty-four members that joined in the challenge from the eight counties. Each week there were social media posts, daily challenges to complete and a chance to win a random-drawing for completing the challenges. Small weekly prizes and one large end-of-challenge prize was awarded to individuals who had completed all four weekly challenges. There was a total of forty-eight posts designed for the challenge with 944 comments. Many posts were shared and generated reactions. 89% of participants reported engaging in physical activity and 96% reported they walked more because of this program. 93% reported cooking healthier meals as a part of this challenge. One individual shared that they had lost 25lbs in the months prior and were using this program to continue their weight loss and stay motivated. Many reported they increased water intake, tried new recipes, increased daily step counts, made small diet changes, and were more motivated with the encouragement and support from the group. They reported decreased pain, more flexibility, improved energy, decreased stress, felt more in-shape, improved sleep, increased lung capacity, felt more socially connected and there was a reported weight loss of 12lbs from the 32% of participants who responded to the end-of-program survey.
Johnson County Extension uses these 3 effective programs to engage their audiences to live a healthy lifestyle. Small but steady changes are crucial to successfully becoming healthy habits. The activities in each program are simple, such as daily walking, increasing water intake, and trying a healthy recipe once a week. Even though the activities are simple, they will have long-lasting benefits. And, the activities can easily be tweaked and targeted towards schools, classrooms, church groups, businesses, or community groups. For more information, feel free to reach out to me Sarah Ransom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributor: Sarah Ransom, Johnson County Extension Director, Family and Consumer Science & 4-H Agent, UT/TSU Extension Office – Johnson County