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HEAL begins with walking program to help fight obesity in Washington County

March 01, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Tia Wright carries her son Colby on a walk around the North Hagerstown High School track Friday. Wright is participating in the HEAL program that is preventing and reducing obesity in Washington County.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

A scheduled walk around the North Hagerstown High School track Saturday morning will be the first program of HEAL, a non-profit organization aimed at fighting obesity in Washington County by promoting “Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles (HEAL).”

HEAL FitWalks will be an ongoing free walking group for all ages occurring each Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. and lasting 30-45 minutes, HEAL executive Director Jenny Fleming said.

“I hope this is an initial step for HEAL to start getting people to be active,” Fleming said. “Because of statistics that just came out, the data for Washington County is showing the prevalence of obesity in our community.”

Meritus Health’s 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment showed that 72 percent of Washington County adults are obese or overweight, according to a press release from HEAL, and the 2009 Maryland Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance survey showed 30 percent of low-income preschoolers (2-4 years old) in Washington County to be obese.

HEAL was established as a direct response to Goal No. 24 in the Strategic Community Impact Plan (SCIP), which is to decrease the obesity rate in children and adults by increasing physical activity and healthy eating. SCIP is a document presented by the Community Foundation of Washington County and the United Way of Washington County to “identify, prioritize, and respond to community needs” using the public and private sectors to “improve the quality of life in Washington County.” 

Fleming said that the organization will begin more programs in the future, including an awareness campaign to educate people about the amount of sugar in certain drinks. The walks, which will be held at North Hagerstown High School’s track in March before likely moving to Fairgrounds Park, are a way for HEAL to “get the ball rolling” for its focus on obesity and “healthy living.”

“It seemed like the most logical thing to do was to start off with a walking program,” Fleming said. “Walking is very simple to do, anyone can do it, it’s applicable to all ages, and the benefits are numerous.”

More than 30 participants have signed up to take part in the walk, according to Fleming.

Tia Wright, 32, of Hagerstown, said that she will be doing the walk with her husband, stepson, mother, two friends, and her 1-year old son Colby, who will be carried in a baby backpack by either her or her husband, making the walk a social activity as well as a healthy one.

“It’s camaraderie and holding people accountable to their goals and my goals as well,” she said. “I decided to get involved so that I could do something with my free time that would involve my family and friends who wanted to become healthy as well.”

Wright, who works as a nurse at Frederick Memorial Hospital, said that HEAL is exactly what she was looking for to help promote healthy lifestyles.

“I have a strong belief that healthy eating and active living can decrease the cause of many disease processes,” she said.

The walk will be lead by area fitness professionals, who will eventually set goals for the participants, according to Fleming. The professionals will lead the participants in warm-up routines, give them motivation, and show them walking techniques.

Dave Ruff, owner of Ruff Fitness Training Center in Hagerstown and one of the program’s leaders, said that although walking is supposed to be a natural movement, many people have actually forgotten how to “move properly” because their lifestyles include irregular or no physical activity.

“We sit and watch TV, and we sit in long commutes in the car, and we sit and play video games,” he said. “All that sitting tightens up your hip flexors and weakens other muscles, and suddenly we’re not able to move the way we’re supposed to be able to.”

Ruff added that the Saturday walk is meant to be a “support system” for the participants but that he hopes to get people walking on a daily basis and reporting back to the trainers on a weekly basis.

Local fitness expert Chad Smith, who is also a leader in the program, said that its overall goal is to get people involved in physical activities in a “non-intimidating way.”

“We’re not going to ask you to go to the gym or pick up weights,” he said. “We’re just asking you to do something naturally, just to walk with us.”

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