Walk Across Texas helps Texans make strides toward better health

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Angie Gutierrez, 210-631-0400, aogutierrez@ag.tamu.edu

Michael Lopez, 979-845-6631, mllopez@ag.tamu.edu

SAN ANTONIO – While the Walk Across Texas program activities continue throughout the state, some groups from Bexar County have already completed the eight-week Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service health and wellness initiative and are touting its benefits.

“For the last two months, teams from the Casa de Esperanza senior residential community, My Educations Solutions and four elementary schools in San Antonio have participated in and completed this year’s Walk Across Texas effort,” said Angie Gutierrez, AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences agent, Bexar County.

Gutierrez said Walk Across Texas is a free program of AgriLife Extension designed to help Texans establish the habit of regular physical activity and develop a healthier lifestyle.

“The name comes from the goal of the participants walking at least 832 miles, which is the  distance from the farthest point east to the farthest point west in the state,” Gutierrez said. “Participants walk wherever they feel safe and comfortable. We encourage team participation with team captains to help motivate team members and help them meet their goal.”

Residents at the Casa De Esperanza senior living community in San Antonio were involved in this year’s Walk Across Texas activities. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

She said AgriLife Extension personnel help set up the teams and have kickoff activities at participating locations. They provide health and nutrition instruction and check on team progress at the halfway point. At the end of the program, they hold a recognition celebration at the location, during which they distribute medals and participation certificates, plus recognize top-performing teams and individuals.

“Walking is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to be more active and reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke,” said Michael Lopez, AgriLife Extension program specialist in family and community health, College Station.

Lopez said Texas ranks as the ninth most physically inactive state, about one-third of Texans are obese and more than one-fourth of the state’s adults report they get no leisure-time physical activity.

He said while final figures for 2017 participation are not yet available, in 2016 more than 35,000 participants from over 150 counties statewide participated in Walk Across Texas. These included individuals and teams from schools, businesses, churches, residential communities, health care facilities and other locations throughout the state.

“Wellness benefits from the program help reduce medical costs associated with illness and productivity costs associated with work absenteeism,” he said. “Including the cost of lost wages, the total potential economic impact for the 2016 team participants was approximately $185 million. The economic impact calculation of the WAT program is a sum of the discounted health care cost savings and lost wages over each participant’s lifetime.”

At the Casa De Esperanza residential community, 27 seniors participated in the Walk Across Texas program. They met each Thursday to coordinate their walk and discuss the benefits they received from participation.

“This is a residential community for low-income seniors,” said Naomi Parras, occupancy manager. “We have an active group of seniors and this gave them an opportunity to congregate and do something together. Many of them lost weight and lowered their blood pressure.”

Alicia Acosta, resident service coordinator at Casa De Esperanza, said there were additional benefits.

“The seniors enjoyed working together in teams and getting to know other people in the community,” she said. “In addition to losing weight and having more energy, they also slept better and said they were determined to improve their lifestyle by adopting better eating habits.”

Together, the three top teams at Casa De Esperanza – the Esperanza Roadrunners, Texas Stars and Texas Bucks and Does — walked more than 1,900 miles.

My Education Solutions and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel prepare healthful foods during the Walk Across Texas challenge. (Photo courtesy My Education Solutions)

At My Education Solutions, a company specializing in federal student loan forgiveness, the 24 Walk Across Texas participants touted not only the wellness benefits of the program but also the interpersonal benefits.

“One of the benefits of the program was that people who are not normally in leadership positions in the company got to be team captains and practice their leadership skills,” said company president and CEO Christina Randell. “It has also helped with promoting positive competition, teamwork and camaraderie. We also got a chance to learn more about nutrition.”

Texas District 123 Rep. Diego Bernal, who attended the wrap-up celebration at My Education Solutions, congratulated the participants, asked them how they benefited from the program and told them he was “inspired” by their efforts.

Charmain Garza, a human resources specialist with the company, said she too was inspired as a result of her participation in the program.

“I’ve signed up for a half-marathon in the fall,” she said. “I don’t think I would have signed up for it unless I had participated in the Walk Across Texas program. It gave me the extra motivation and incentive I needed.”

Mayra Napoles, a multicultural initiative director from the local American Heart Association office who encouraged participants to take their blood pressure during the program, also attended the wrap-up.

The teams at My Education Solution, including the top three teams from first to third respectively – Team Magnificent, Team No D-Feet and Team Hotstuff — walked 5,339 miles over the eight-week period.

Four area elementary schools also joined the effort. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“We also had four elementary schools that had also participated in AgriLife Extension’s Learn,  Grow, Eat and Go! program on gardening and nutrition participate in this year’s Walk Across Texas program,” Gutierrez said. “All together, about 325 children participated with the support and encouragement of their coaches and teachers. They walked in teams or with their families and as part of activities conducted at school during recess and physical education.”

Gutierrez said participants at the four elementary schools – Baskin Academy, Schulze, Collins Garden and Graebner, all in the San Antonio Independent School District — devoted 528.50 hours of physical activity to the program. Converting time to distance, this meant students at Graebner walked 882 miles, at Baskin 292.5 miles, at Schulz 246 miles, and at Collins Garden 165 miles — a total of 1,585.5 miles.

“This program was a real benefit for both the adults and youth who participated, and we hope even more people in Bexar County and other Texas counties will sign up during the rest of the year,” Gutierrez said.

For more information on Walk Across Texas go to http://walkacrosstexas.tamu.edu/.


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