Health agencies count their steps for fitness, prizes

By Derotha Ferraro

South Peninsula Hospital

South Peninsula Hospital, the community’s largest organization dedicated to health and wellness, has challenged some key partner agencies in the community to a walking challenge. Homer Steps Up! is the first inter-agency challenge in the Homer area, and hopes to be the start of a community wide movement.

South Peninsula Hospital Health and Wellness educator Bonita Banks, RN, developed this creative approach to wellness in challenging the city of Homer, The Center and SVT Health and Wellness to a steps competition for the month of May. When Banks outreached to these agencies this spring, they jumped on the opportunity to have a unique offering to motivate their employees to create and embrace healthy lifestyle habits. A committee was formed, made up of human resources or wellness representatives from all four agencies, and the details finalized.

The event kicked off May 1, and the first week found the hospital in the lead with a total cumulative average of 69,133 steps. However, as of May 21, the city of Homer was in the lead with steps as follows:

City of Homer: 218,934

South Peninsula Hospital: 210,910

SVT Health and Wellness: 209,516

The Center: 200,960

Up for grabs is a traveling trophy, to be displayed for the year by the winning agency. In addition, there are numerous prizes for individuals based on the individual participant goal of 7,500 steps each day. The individual with the most steps wins $250, and those who walk a minimum of 166,067 total steps will be entered into a drawing for the $1,000 cash prize, donated by the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation. A second chance prize of $250 donated by The Center, and a third chance prize of $100 will also be drawn.

The event will culminate at an awards party June 1, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at WKFL park. Drawings and awards will be at 6 p.m. Bragging rights from high steppers are sure to abound. Team photos will be taken and light refreshments enjoyed..

The hospital employs approximately 400 people, and many of the positions don’t lend themselves to movement. Employees at desks working on computer screens for long periods of time use the challenge as a reminder to get up and grab some steps, with internal competitions for the most steps happening between colleagues.

Encouraging healthy behaviors both in and out of the workplace improves wellness on all levels and supports a more positive work environment.

Sedentary lifestyles are a growing concern, as people in the United States have the lowest average daily steps taken in the developed world. According to the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), nearly 65 percent of adults on the Southern Kenai Peninsula meet the criteria for being overweight or obese. Medical complications of obesity include heart disease, a variety of cancers, stroke, arthritis and more. Cancer and heart disease have been the top two leading causes of death on the Southern Kenai Peninsula since the the first needs assessment was done in 2007.

The Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Institutes of Health all recommend walking as a means to improve overall health, and prevent or manage conditions such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Research of groups of adults walking outdoors found improvements in blood pressure and resting heart rate, reduction of body fat and BMI, lower cholesterol levels, and a decrease in depression. Walking is also considered a weight-bearing exercise, a key factor in maintaining strong bones.

Walking has so much going for it. It’s free, can be done indoors or out, the only equipment needed is a supportive pair of walking shoes, it can be done as a family activity, as social time with friends, or as quiet time for yourself.

Free and inexpensive primary prevention strategies like this cannot only save millions of dollars in health-care costs, but improve overall longevity and quality of life. A general goal is 30 minutes of physical activity a day, which doesn’t have to be done all at once.

If you are generally not active, discuss how to start with your primary care provider. It’s always good to start with an attainable goal, choose different routes to walk to avoid boredom, and always be safe with reflective clothing, and if going alone let someone know where you’re headed.

Nearly 200 employees from all four agencies are engaged in the challenge. Banks credits this to the spirit of friendly competition, and a few good prizes.

“It’s been rewarding to work with local agencies to create fun ways to improve our health and inspire new healthy habits,” she said.

Next year’s plans are to expand the challenge to even more agencies, businesses and community members.

Derotha Ferraro is director of public relations for South Peninsula Hospital.