Does it really take 21 days to change a habit? No matter -- participants in Hennepin County's Get Out, Get Active program can take as long as they need to adopt healthful lifestyle changes by taking advantage of unique fitness opportunities available throughout the county.

From BMX biking to kayaking, from volleyball to disc golf, Get Out, Get Active offers ideas, transportation information and even prize incentives to residents of all ages and abilities to help them find the exercise "niche" that's right for them.

Active Living Hennepin County is a partnership of several cities (including Golden Valley, Brooklyn Park, Bloomington and Minnetonka), businesses, nonprofit groups, parks and government agencies. Get Out, Get Active, part of this initiative, offers three sessions per year spotlighting various recreational activities and destinations, many of them free, that residents might not have considered. Among suggestions for October-December are ice skating, basketball and inline skating.

"We've really focused on giving people ideas on ways to be active," said Karen Nikolai, healthy community planning manager for Hennepin County. "And through our partnership with Three Rivers Park District, we've also given people a great incentive -- if they fill out a participation card after completing five of nine activities and send it in, they are entered into a drawing for one of four $150 Three Rivers activity passes to take classes, rent equipment, all kinds of things."

Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman said that when the Active Living initiative was launched, the idea was to promote community-wide events that encouraged residents to integrate physical activity into daily routines, including bike rodeos in New Hope, Crystal and Golden Valley and a Step to It challenge in St. Louis Park.

"Get Out, Get Active was the next evolution," she said. "We wanted to let people know about affordable exercise options in their own communities, with the overall goal of building healthy behaviors in order to decrease chronic disease like Type II diabetes or heart disease."

Brochures, which can be found in libraries and government buildings, along with the Active Living website, offer information about parks, trails, recreation centers and more.

Working to get the message out and providing opportunities are part of the solution; getting the message heard is another. One success story that has emerged from the Get Out, Get Active initiative is the Williston Fitness Center in Minnetonka, which has an impressive set of statistics showing use by residents as well as nonresidents.

In 2010, the center, which offers exercise rooms, swimming pools, an indoor play area and more, tracked 132,720 visits. In 2011, the number was 203,408, and for this year, the final number of visits is projected to be around 275,000.

"Active Living has really been an important part of what we are doing here in the city," said Dave Johnson, recreation services director for the city of Minnetonka. "We want to offer options for people -- they can become members of Williston, or they can pay a daily fee, or they may use our facility through a community recreation class."

Johnson acknowledged that there will always be a percentage of any population that won't consider entering a fitness center, but, he said, one of Williston's most popular programs aims to remove that stigma to get people moving -- and liking it.

"In 2010, we started a Don't Sit, Get Fit program that offers information on nutrition and fitness, connects participants with a personal trainer and helps remove the intimidation some people feel in an exercise class setting," he said. "The first year, we had 20 people enrolled. Last year, we had 45 and a waiting list. No one dropped out. Together, they lost a total of 43 pounds in 12 weeks."

The next session will begin in January.

Johnson said the way Get Out, Get Active focuses on establishing a daily routine is the key to success. "We see people from Don't Sit, Get Fit here all the time," he said. "It's all about changing those habits."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.