With K-State Research and Extension’s Walk Kansas celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the program’s colorful T-shirts are becoming increasingly visible throughout the state as warmer weather allows jackets to be left in the closet.  

Nearly 20,000 people have enrolled in the March 8 to May 7 fitness challenge, said Sharolyn Jackson, state program coordinator and northeast Kansas extension specialist based in Manhattan.

Jackson said the program was founded to encourage families, friends and neighbors to add healthful physical activity to their lifestyle.

The program’s organizing team chose walking because it was easy to do; could be accomplished close to home, and and simply required walking shoes, she said.

Since then, Walk Kansas has grown to include other forms of aerobic exercise equivalent to walking a mile. This year, in addition to logging miles to cover the 423 miles equivalent to walking across Kansas, more active participants may choose to log 1,200 miles, the equivalent of walking the distance around the state’s perimeter.

Either way, the program continues to promote physical activity and health, Jackson said.

While Walk Kansas can serve as an introduction to research-based programs with K-State Research and Extension, many participants return each year, looking forward to the annual program as a sure sign of spring and a jumpstart for healthful outdoor activities, said Jackson.

She also reported that the program is being adopted to encourage wellness in the workplace. In Holton, Kan., for example, 10 of the 20 local Walk Kansas teams are affiliated with the Holton Community Hospital.

“The teams comprise more than a third – and almost half – of all employees,” said Sarah Larison, health information management director for the hospital.

“Physical activity is key to health, and we’re pleased that employees were interested enough to pay the small registration fee and take part in the challenge,” said Larison, who explained that Walk Kansas seemed a good fit to grow the hospital’s wellness program.

“Teamwork has generated a little friendly competition, but the goal – improving health – is shared,” Larison said. “Participating in Walk Kansas is generating healthy conversations in the workplace and around the bulletin board, on which hospital teams’ progress (miles as well as fruit and vegetable consumption) is posted each week.”

The Holton Community Hospital is located in Jackson County, which constitutes the Meadowlark Extension District with Jefferson and Nemaha counties. That district is home to 91 Walk Kansas teams this year.

In Douglas County, 84 percent of the 186 Walk Kansas teams are drawn from workplaces, said Susan Krumm, K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences agent and Walk Kansas project manager at the county level.

Eighteen workplaces are represented, and when University of Kansas colleges and departments are separated, 23 different work sites are participating in the program. Lawrence public schools, USD 497, are hosting 50 teams this year.

“Bringing Walk Kansas into the workplace makes sense,” said Krumm, who noted that adults spend approximately half of their waking hours on the job, making work sites an optimal opportunity to initiate and support healthful environments.

“Healthy people typically have increased energy, and, often, a more positive outlook,” said Krumm, who credits support from WorkWell Lawrence in encouraging collaboration between employers and community leaders to promote wellness in the workplace. WorkWell Lawrence is funded with a LiveWell Lawrence Grant provided by the Kansas Health Foundation.

While most Walk Kansas teams meet their goal, Jackson said health benefits from the program -- including improved cardiovascular health, success in managing stress and more peaceful sleep -- usually become apparent soon after walking or other comparable aerobic exercise becomes part of daily life.

More information on Walk Kansas is available at local K-State Research and Extension offices and online at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu or http://www.walkkansas.org.