Courier Staff Writer
Living a healthier life takes baby steps.
Nearly 600 Ottumwans participated in the second annual Healthiest State Walk during the Wednesday lunch hour.
Gov. Terry Branstad launched the Healthiest State Initiative last year with the goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
It’s important to get involved in events like these to become healthy and stay healthy, said Cheryl Shedenhelm.
“I’m trying to get very healthy,” Shedenhelm, volunteer for the Foster Grandparents program, said. “I had a massive heart attack in 2008.”
Tom Sisler, executive director of the Ottumwa YMCA, said while numbers of participants were lower than last year’s Start Somewhere Walk, it was good to see so many out walking on such a beautiful day.
“The initiative started a year ago to make Iowa the healthiest state,” Sisler said. “We’re currently 16th healthiest, so we’re down from 19th when we started.”
While it’s good to see Iowa’s rank improving, Sisler said people shouldn’t focus on the numbers so much.
“It’s about finding better health,” he said. “It’s good to do this as a community. Just like exercise, it’s always more fun and powerful to band together.”
Sisler said people can work with their church, workplaces, families, neighbors and friends to become healthier.
“Kids copy what the adults do,” said Gale Sauer, of Ottumwa, who said she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. “What makes a difference is if we do it, they’ll do it.”
Since last year was a no-school day, Sisler said they were unable to incorporate schoolkids into the mix. But this year, 450 Wildwood Elementary School students, parents and teachers walked.
“We talk about it in P.E. class all the time, how important it is to be physically active and understand why they should be physically active,” said Ruth Thomas, physical education teacher at Wildwood. “This gave them a chance to go and be physically active and to send a message to the neighborhood that this new generation is the generation that’s going to turn it around.”
Thomas hopes what the kids learn about the importance of healthy living in school will also bring in their parents’ generation.
“We try to emphasize how much fun being physically active can be and how important it is,” Thomas said.
The initiative gives suggestions to communities on how to make small steps in a healthier direction, such as putting healthier choices near the top of restaurant menus or changing up the layout of grocery stores.
Grocery stores have an opportunity to create healthy aisles, Sisler said.
“I was talking to the CEO of Fareway last year and he said, ‘We’re never going to stop selling Snickers,’” Sisler said.
And that’s OK, he said. But grocery stores have the opportunity to put healthier foods up front or create neutral family-friendly checkout aisles where candy doesn’t line the shelves.
Local stores are also incorporating dietitians and health specialists to work with people on making better meals.
And Hy-Vee uses “NuVal,” a nutritional scoring system that ranks food on a 100-point system. The higher the score, the higher the nutritional content of the food item.
“It helps us as shoppers to do a better job,” Sisler said.
The Healthiest State Walk began last October, in which more than 291,000 Iowans participated in the kickoff Start Somewhere Walk.