Lalit Khosla was an executive in the snack food industry when his doctor issued the ultimatum: Change your lifestyle or your days are numbered.
Khosla stepped up to the challenge. Last year, he led the city of Brooklyn Park to its fifth consecutive victory in the Hennepin County Step To It Challenge.
Brooklyn Park residents recorded nearly 104 million steps — or about 52,000 miles — during the month of May to clinch the win. Khosla alone logged nearly two million steps during the monthlong competition.
The health implications also are measurable. Khosla said his blood pressure has dropped so much that his doctor is taking him off medication.
“I used to be diabetic — no more,” Khosla, 72, said.
The north metro suburb, with Khosla again leading the charge, is now aiming for a six-peat — but Plymouth and Hopkins could be hot on its heels.
The Step To It Challenge is a public health initiative to promote physical activity when the weather warms each May. This year, 24 communities in Hennepin County and several schools, workplaces and community groups are competing. Last year, the competition logged 674 million steps.
“People have been cooped up all winter. It’s getting you outside walking the trails, being in the park connecting with nature,” said Pat Busch, program supervisor for Brooklyn Park’s Recreation and Parks Department. “It’s hopefully what people do anyway, but it gives you a structure and it keeps you accountable.”
And making it a contest pitting city against city builds excitement.
“If there’s no score, there’s no game and people don’t play. If you have a friendly competition, it helps everyone motivate themselves,” said Joe Fuemmeler, program director of the day program for adults with disabilities at Chrestomathy Center in south Minneapolis.
Smartphones and Fitbits track steps and entice younger people into the contest, but older walkers can use pedometers or simply time their walks or physical activity and translate that into steps.
Fuemmeler, his co-workers and clients compete in the step challenge each May. They look for 5K races to run, and plan walks and other physical activity that can be translated into steps.
“Having that burst of focus on physical activity helps us discover what’s possible,” Fuemmeler said. “Let’s push it a little bit further and see what we can do.”
But does simply walking more make a marked difference on one’s health?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School all cite studies showing that even modest increases in physical activity will improve health. According to an NIH article that included data on more than 650,000 adults, Americans 12 and older spend 8 to 10 hours a day sitting.
“We found that even a low level of physical activity — equivalent to about 10 minutes a day of walking — was associated with a gain of almost two years in life expectancy,” said Dr. Steven Moore of the NIH, according to the article. “High levels of activity — equivalent to about 45 minutes a day of walking — were associated with a gain of four years or more.”
Inactivity is often a bigger problem for suburbanites, according to an article published by the Harvard Health Letter.
“Studies have shown that people who live in suburbs and depend on cars to get around get less exercise than those who live in places with sidewalks and nearby shops,” according to the article.
Residents and people who work in Hennepin County can register for their teams at www.steptoit.org/.