Penn State Extension: A 'virtual' walk can lead to actual fitness benefits

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Extension is encouraging Pennsylvanians to improve their health and fitness by taking a virtual — or actual — walk on one of the state's many Rails- to-Trails recreational paths. It's part of the organization's Everybody Walk Across PA program, in which registered teams take a virtual walk along a scenic route across the Keystone State.

Participants can join with family members, friends or co-workers to form a team of up to five, and team members will try to average walking 10 miles per person per week — or perform the equivalent exercise — to meet the goals of the program, according to Karen Bracey, Penn State Extension family living and nutrition educator.

"You can walk with your team or on your own at a time and place convenient for you," Bracey said. "Although we will virtually visit the Rails to Trails, you don't have to walk there. Of course if one is convenient for you, they are wonderful places to walk — the state has a diverse and beautiful collection of walking and biking trails."

Each week during the eight-week program, team captains will report the mileage for their teams, and all participants will receive weekly email updates, each featuring a new trail from a different area of the state. Weekly emails also will include motivators for participants to keep walking and strategies for eating more fruits and vegetables, with an eye toward helping people move toward healthier lifestyles.

"Moderate activity such as walking reduces stress and fatigue and increases mental alertness," Bracey said. "It improves cardiovascular functioning and strengthens bones. Combined with healthy eating, it can help to reduce or maintain body weight and decrease incidence of certain chronic diseases.

"Spring is a great time to get outside and be more active, and eight weeks can help turn those healthy behaviors into healthy habits."

She noted that individuals with all levels of physical ability are encouraged to participate in Everybody Walk Across PA. An exercise conversion chart is available to translate various other physical activities into miles for this program. In addition, while the goal is to accomplish the equivalent of at least 10 miles per week per person, there is no minimum requirement for participation.

The program, which will run from April 4 to May 29, is free but registration is required by April 1. To register or learn more, visit the program website or contact Bracey at 570-836-3196 or kbracey@psu.edu.

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Last Updated February 16, 2016