Improving health and fitness and losing weight is a common New Year's resolution, and often among one's best intentions. Even so, snow and chilly temperatures can easily put the damper on health-promoting physical activity.

Until now, that is ...

February signals the time to visit the Extension office to sign up for Walk Kansas, which this year is scheduled March 7 through May 1. Teams should register by Feb. 26 at the Finney County Extension Office, 501 S. Ninth St.

This statewide program from Kansas State Research and Extension attracted about 22,000 participants last year. The basic concept of the program involves forming teams of six to cover the distance across the state of Kansas 423 miles from east to west in eight weeks.

For many in the state, the program has become a turning point a time to get up and get moving to re-energize for the coming spring and summer months. Knowing that team members are counting on one another to do their part can be a motivating factor to stick with it.

The low-cost program, now in its ninth year, initially focused on walking. Walking is still encouraged, but participants also can enjoy a variety of other aerobic, heart-healthy exercise. And since the time available for physical activity can vary with daily schedules, the weather and other demands, the weekly goal is 150 minutes of physical activity. That amounts to 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

The recommendation comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is based on research that shows that physical activity is helpful in reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and facilitating weight loss or maintenance. Physical activity also helps reduce the risks of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Walk Kansas participants also report renewed energy, a happier outlook and better sleep.

K-State's Walk Kansas program is low-cost. A nominal registration fee of $7 per person covers the cost of program materials, motivational prizes, closing celebration and a weekly newsletter with health and fitness tips and recipes. Participants will be encouraged to record their consumption of health-promoting fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

An optional Walk Kansas T-shirt also is available for purchase at $6 each. This year's shirt color choices black and sapphire blue are on display at the Finney County Extension Office.

Walk Kansas is a great way to encourage family members, co-workers, church-mates, neighbors and friends to become more physically active. Just recruit five people plus yourself to make a six-member team. Children also are welcome to participate. Dream up a creative team name, choose a captain and then pick up a team packet at the Finney County Extension Office. Register your team and pay fees by the Feb. 26 deadline.

For more information about the statewide Walk Kansas program, visit the Web site www.walkkansas.org. You also can find the Finney County registration forms on our local Extension Web site at www.finney.ksu.edu.

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