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Walk Kansas team walks more than 2,300 miles
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Cottonwood Extension District Director Donna Krug shares samples of jicama, a root vegetable also known as Mexican potato, with participants during the Walk Kansas celebration luncheon, Wednesday at the Great Bend Activity Center. The eight-week Walk Kansas Challenge wraps up this week. - photo by Susan Thacker

Donna Krug has been sharing the gospel of healthy living through exercise and nutrition for years. So, as Barton County’s 20th annual Walk Kansas fitness challenge comes to a close this week, Krug asked if the program needs to be updated.

“How can you keep it exciting and engaging?” Krug asked as she handed out surveys during the celebratory luncheon that concludes the program.

At one time, Barton County was closing in on have 100 six-person teams signed up for the eight-week fitness challenge. Participation nowadays is lower, but still strong. Even so, expect changes for Walk Kansas 2020.

Celebrating healthy living

Walk Kansas participants were invited to celebrate their progress Wednesday by eating a healthy lunch at the Great Bend Activity Center. Krug and friends prepared a buffet of vegetables and fruit, introducing some people to jicama, the “Mexican potato” that is eaten raw like a turnip. During the lunch, Krug gave a recap of this year’s Walk Kansas challenge.

The challenge isn’t a competition, although teams can watch a leaderboard and vie for bragging rights. Team members keep track of the minutes they exercise, and those minutes are translated into miles on a map along Kansas highways. Fifteen minutes of exercise moves the team one mile further along its journey.

Earlier this year Krug, who is the director of the Cottonwood Extension District that includes Barton and Ellis counties, mentioned Walk Kansas to senior citizens in her “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy” class. Some of those class members formed a team named “The Persistent Pedestrians” that logged 2,352 miles, well beyond their goal. They also recorded drinking 1,774 cups of water and eating 905 cups of fruit and vegetables over the eight weeks. 

“We had some fun names for our teams this year,” Krug said, mentioning “Above the Fold,” made up of Great Bend Tribune employees. Businesses often sign up one or more teams, she said; Great Bend Health & Rehab signed up four teams, including “The Pacemakers,” and First Kansas Bank also had three teams. Some find the camaraderie of a team helps individuals meet their goal of moving.

“If you do exercise together, you’re a little more engaged,” Krug said. For most healthy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

The eight-week Walk Kansas challenge is an annual spring event that is designed to be a catalyst for change. Sponsors encourage participants to be more active for at least eight weeks in hopes that the motivation will become intrinsic and continue.

Looking ahead

During Walk Kansas 2020, K-State Research and Extension plans to provide more information about Blue Zones. These are geographic areas throughout the world where people live the longest, often free of dementia and chronic disease, said Sharolyn Flaming Jackson, the state Walk Kansas coordinator.

“Studies have established that only about 20 percent of how long the average person lives is determined by their genes. So, the answers to why these people live longer, healthier lives must be in their lifestyle and environment,” she said. “During Walk Kansas 2020, we will introduce (participants) to the nine commonalities that exist in the five Blue Zone communities and look at how their surroundings make the healthy choice easy for those who live there.”