One step at a time

Clipping on their pedometers, thousands of Marylanders stride along a gentle path to fitness

July 15, 2005|By Mariana Minaya | Mariana Minaya,SUN STAFF

Angela Young is surrounded by food. Her boyfriend is a chef. Her son works at Wendy's, and her children love McDonald's, where she would often eat with them.

She works a desk job at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and usually the only reason she gets up from her desk is to attend meetings where doughnuts and cookies are served.

"Food is just placed in front of me," says the 36-year-old city resident. But thanks to the new health initiative Get Fit Maryland, Young and about 3,000 others are being encouraged to walk their way to weight loss and good health using pedometers to track their progress.

The three-month program, created through a partnership of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the University Medical Center and Merritt Athletic Clubs, is designed to get people to take 10,000 steps a day - four to five miles. That's the amount recommended by the government to maintain a healthy weight and prevent such chronic conditions as diabetes and heart disease, problems associated with the growing number of obese adults in the country.

Participants track the number of steps they take with a pedometer and try to increase the amount they would normally walk. It's a decidedly gentle approach to exercise. There is no need to start a rigorous workout program. In fact, many participants complete their steps during the workday by such simple means as avoiding elevators and parking farther from their offices.

"It can be as simple as 35 to 45 minutes a day," says Dr. Suzanne Sysko, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Weight Management and Wellness, who created Get Fit Maryland. "The whole point is ... you don't have to go to the gym for an hour. Get up 10 minutes early and walk."

For Sandy Bauer, director of ambulatory services at the medical center, being able to exercise by walking distinguishes Get Fit Maryland from other fitness programs that are harder to complete.

Bauer, 41, who lives in Forest Hill, has managed to double the number of steps she takes in a day from 5,000 to 10,000 by walking in the evenings, during lunch and taking the steps to the seventh floor of the parking garage where she leaves her car.

"You fit it in your daily schedule and make alterations to what you normally do," Bauer says.

"It sounds trite and cliche, but it's true and it adds up," Sysko says. "The idea is not to make a drastic change, but to change your lifestyle from none to moderate but regular exercise. Your body appreciates whatever you will give it above what you're doing."

An easy program

Participants - most are members of the University of Maryland medical or student community; others joined through their church or were recruited in their communities - say it's easy to add steps because they already do some walking during the day.

Alicia Hendrix, hematology/oncology fellowship program coordinator at the Greenebaum Cancer Center, who has walked with Angela Young during lunch almost every day since the program began in May, found out she walked about 6,000 or 7,000 steps when she first started wearing her pedometer. Now, following Get Fit Maryland recommendations, she's up to 13,000 steps a day.

"The fact that you ... could actually track it makes you conscientious," Hendrix says. "That pretty much pushed us out there."

By walking more than 10,000 steps daily, Hendrix, 34, hopes to lose the 20 pounds she gained during the nine years she has worked at the hospital.

"I was surprised at how much weight I picked up," she says. "My job requires that I pretty much sit at my desk all day."

Based in part on sedentary lifestyles, the average adult gains 8 to 15 pounds per decade, Sysko says. Often the gain is subtle and therefore less alarming.

"We live in such a sedentary society," Sysko says. "If you take an 18- or 19-year-old and then flash-forward to 40 or 50 and they've gained 30 to 40 pounds, you've got some real problems on your hands."

The average American takes 900 to 3,000 steps a day. In 2003, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans walk 10,000 steps a day. But even if you don't hit the 10,000-step mark, Sysko says, just increasing the number of steps you walk is important.

Get Fit Maryland participants are required to clock their steps each day and attend one of the educational health conferences offered if they want to receive a number of free monthly incentives, which include a water bottle, socks and an Under Armour shirt.

The program costs participants $5 if they registered through a participating employer or $8 if they signed up independently. That includes the pedometer.

"It was an affordable way to try to do something," says Get Fit Maryland coordinator Mariellen Synan. "Anybody can walk."

Church joins in

Sherri Morgan-Johnson, neonatal intensive care unit case manager at the medical center, got her parents and 169 members of her Bowie church to join the program. She convinced them it was a manageable way to exercise.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.