Towns Step Up to Friendly Fitness Face-Off
By SARA ARTHURS
Getting healthy is a nice goal — but what about triumphing over another community and gaining bragging rights? Which is more likely to motivate you to exercise?
Residents of McComb and Arlington are currently engaged in a “Step Challenge,” in which each village strives to accumulate the most steps walked this summer. The 12-week challenge started in early July and will end in late September.
Jessica Halsey, community health educator with Hancock Public Health, said the competition was created to see “what would entice people to get up and get active.” Organizers are starting small, but eventually hope to introduce the challange county-wide.
Staff at Hancock Public Health have been competing in a challenge of their own.
There are 71 Arlington residents and 67 McComb residents participating. As of Thursday, Arlington had 17,490,800 steps logged to McComb’s 19,036,675 steps.
Participants can count steps walked, and other types of physical activity can be converted into the equivalent number of “steps.” For example, “If I leisurely swam for half an hour … it converts it to 4,620 steps,” Halsey said.
Steps are tracked through an online platform that is designed to include people with disabilities. If someone uses a wheelchair, Halsey explained, they can log the time they spent doing something active.
The contest is being embraced not just by adults but by youths as well, Halsey said. Sports teams from area schools are involved.
“Obesity and diabetes are definitely on our radar,” Halsey said.
Eating healthy and being physically active can prevent these health issues, and can also improve mental health and provide opportunities to be social.
Halsey sees a sense of “hometown pride” and friendly competition in the challenge.
Lisa Mansfield of McComb, for example, said she’s looking forward to “bragging rights” and enjoys that each community is taking pride in the contest.
Mansfield said McComb was “quite a ways behind” in the beginning but has since taken over. The village has fewer people participating, but its residents are averaging more steps per person per day.
“We’re a prideful bunch. … We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to win,” she said.
In a small community, Mansfield said you know the residents who are already prone to being active. She made a “pointed effort” ahead of the contest to let these community members know the challenge was coming.
“We all have our days when we’re not as motivated as others,” and a challenge like this helps on those days, she said. She’d talked to a McComb resident who, while traveling, decided to briefly walk in an airport, to get at least some steps in, even if she couldn’t make her goal.
Mansfield herself has worn a FitBit for several years. She’s paying more attention to her steps this summer, though, and was mad at herself the first night she failed to meet her daily step goal.
Another woman in McComb told Mansfield she was getting out more, to make sure she was “doing my part.”
Conversations have also been sparked by a drop in steps. Mansfield approached one person at the McComb Cookie Festival and asked about their drop in steps. It turned out the woman had lost her FitBit. In another case, Mansfield learned that a resident was no longer being active because of a health issue.
“It definitely brings out that community feeling” and gets people talking to neighbors, Mansfield said.
At the end of the 12 weeks, one individual winner will be named from each community, and will receive a package of prizes. Mansfield said her hope is that people continue to stay active, even after the challenge ends.
As organizers intend to include more communities in the coming years, Halsey said they hope to create a “traveling trophy” that will be passed around from year to year.
A message seeking comment left at the mayor’s office in Arlington was not returned.
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