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University employee Ranja Yusuf displays her pedometer.

Pedometers will let U employees count their steps.

U walks the talk: faculty and staff plan an eight-week trek to get together and

Faculty and staff plan an eight-week trek to get together and get healthy

By Gayla Marty

Published on May 21, 2004

"One day it hit me," says a friend of mine. "Every day, I got to walk across one of the world's great rivers. The Mississippi!"

My friend was my coworker, then getting her Ph.D. on the Twin Cities campus. Her home was Germany. To a Minnesotan, the equivalent might have been walking daily across the Nile or Amazon or Danube.

Walking around the U's beautiful campuses and research stations across the state is exactly what U employees are urged to do for eight weeks this summer during Trek Across the U, a University Wellness Initiative program designed to get people moving.

Most Americans have what qualifies as a sedentary lifestyle, taking an average of only 2,000-3,000 steps a day. To get in the optimal level of exercise each day means taking 10,000 steps. When it comes to weight loss and calorie burning, 20 steps equal one calorie. To counteract the effect of a large drink, large fries, and a Big Mac, be prepared to take 20,000 steps.

Stepping out

The Walking Site--at www.thewalkingsite.com--has ideas for how to get in those extra steps each day, including the Idita-walk, your own walking equivalent of the famous 1,049-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

Extra-step tips:

Take a walk with your spouse, child, or friend

Walk the dog

Use the stairs instead of the elevator

Park farther from the store

Better yet, walk to the store

Get up to change the channel (lose the remote)

Window shop

Plan a walking meeting

Walk over to visit a neighbor

Get outside to walk around the garden or do a little weeding

The program began May 17 with the arrival of 18,000 small, plastic pedometers in campus mailboxes. Some workers read the directions (with their quirky translations, "False mounting or walking way will possibly arouse inaccurate result"); some just snapped them on. The first task is to get a baseline and know how many steps a day you're taking now.

The second part of the walking program mailing will contain a Trek Across the U log book and instructions for taking part in a program to increase physical activity, either individually or in teams of three. Participants register online, set a start date up to June 14, and decide on one of three levels of activity--maroon (7,000 a day), gold (10,000 steps), or "maroon and gold stripes" (13,000 steps).

Other types of activities not counted by the pedometer, such as swimming and biking, can be added to totals.

"Putting a pedometer on, for many people, is just a nice awareness-raising piece," says Ruth Rounds, Wellness Initiative director. "For me, when I wear it, I may realize, 'Oh boy, I've had one of those sedentary days,' then it gives me a chance to say, 'Maybe this evening I can do something for myself.' It can push [my exercising] along a little bit."

Each level of participation will have step-total goals for the eight-week period, topping out around 2.2 million total steps at the highest level. Everyone who completes a post-trek survey and returns their journal will receive a gift.

Community and a sense of place

But Trek Across the U has goals beyond personal fitness. It seeks to build a sense of community among staff members and consciousness of the places we work.

The log book contains a pretend walking tour of Minnesota beginning at the Twin Cities campus and continuing around the state with stops at all the other campuses and places where University teaching, research, and outreach happen. By summer's end, U trekkers will have learned more about the physical environment of the entire U and how it connects to the state.

For more on the Wellness Initiative see http://www.umn.edu/ohr/eb/wellness. Pedometers for family and friends who are not U employees are available at U bookstores for $5.

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