University of Georgia
June 2015
Health


Program helps Georgians get healthy one step at a time

Walk Georgia provides a springboard for healthy living.

Georgians have been busy this spring.

Since February, more than 3,500 people have signed up for University of Georgia Extension’s revamped Walk Georgia program and have logged more than 72,398 hours of physical activity on the site.

UGA Extension rolled out its newest version of Walk Georgia—an online, community-based physical activity program—in February, continuing its long track record of helping Georgians, getting about 50,000 people moving since its inception in 2008.

Previously, UGA Extension only offered Walk Georgia during 12-week sessions in the spring and fall, but a $1 million, three-year grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation has allowed for an expansion, making the program available any time.

Additionally, the website underwent a renovation, which expanded the program’s online resources and made them easier to use. Participants are still be able to use the website to create profiles and track their physical activity, but they also are able to link the website to their social media accounts to share their physical activity goals, document progress and encourage other users.

“To me, the beauty of Walk Georgia is that it meets people where they are,” said Deborah Murray, associate dean for Extension and outreach in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Because it’s a community-based program, there’s something in it for everyone.”

And it works.

Jan Baggarly, a now-retired UGA Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County, promoted Walk Georgia to change county residents’ unhealthy lifestyles and decrease the occurrence of health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. During 2014, Bibb County Walk Georgia participants logged the equivalent of 85,525 miles in the spring and 78,405 miles in the fall. The average “walker” lost 3 pounds in the spring and 7 pounds in the fall.

“Exercise doesn’t have to be difficult,” Baggarly said. “It can be as simple as walking, and Walk Georgia is great to motivate people. If you have someone to do it with, you can encourage each other. You can do things together and feed off of each other.”

In 2014, Bibb County participants who completed six weeks of 150 minutes of weekly activity earned incentives like water bottles, hand sanitizer and Walk Georgia T-shirts. Bibb County Extension also hosted a recognition event at the end of the 12-week session, recognizing top individuals in the local Walk Georgia program.

Businesses, colleges, individuals and government entities also took part in Bibb County’s Walk Georgia.

“I have seen several people that were top individuals lose 50 to 60 pounds,” said Baggarly of the professional participants. “When people are more active, they lose more weight.”

The new website, which has been optimized for both desktop and mobile devices, features a blog with healthy recipes, wellness articles and information on Georgia State Parks. Along with a blog, Walk Georgia has Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Georgia has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation. Walk Georgia’s goal is to combat obesity in a fun, community-building way, said program coordinator Maria Bowie. The program equips Georgians with the tools needed to be more physically active and the motivation they need to get started.

“The new Walk Georgia website can be used as a free worksite wellness program for any size business,” Bowie said. “Extension agents throughout the state plan community events and many partner with local organizations to provide participant incentives such as pedometers and T-shirts.”

Walk Georgia participants can form groups or join individually and informally compete against other groups and individuals in their communities or across the state. The program lets Georgians track their physical activity by logging each activity. More than 70 activities are included on the site—from running and bowling to gardening and Zumba.

UGA is a leading institution in fitness education and was recently named a top 10 university for health and fitness learning by the College Factual website. Through the university-developed program, all Georgians have free access to fitness tracking and dozens of resources like strength training demonstrations, healthy recipes and lists of local fitness amenities.

For more information on Walk Georgia, see www.walkgeorgia.org.

- Josie Krogh and Jordan Hill, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences