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Program has helped thousands begin, maintain physical activity
By Paul Shattenberg
Walk Across Texas!, a community-based program helping Texans of all ages adopt a physically active lifestyle, just turned 25 years old – and it’s still going strong.
The program, a wellness initiative of the Family and Community Health Unit of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, challenges teams to “virtually” walk the distance across the state of Texas – 832 miles – over an eight-week period.
Participants engage in friendly competition with local Walk Across Texas!-sponsored events facilitated by AgriLife Extension agents throughout the state, which allows for year-round participation.
Program coordinators estimate that from 1996 to 2020, there have been some 618,399 participants in the Walk Across Texas! effort.
“The program’s 25th anniversary is an important milestone in that it recognizes a quarter-century of sustained success for a program that reflects our agency’s mission of delivering science-based solutions to enhance the health and wellness of the people of Texas,” said Stephen Green, Ph.D., director of the Family and Community Health Unit, Bryan-College-Station.
Walk Across Texas!
In recognition of this milestone achievement, for the rest of 2021 a special Walk Across Texas! 25 Campaign and Challenge will be hosted by a committee of AgriLife Extension representatives from across the state.
The Walk Across Texas! 25 Campaign will celebrate the Walk Across Texas! program, share historical facts, recognize special contributions to the program and much more. To encourage participation in the program across Texas beginning in September, there will be mini-challenges, prizes and recognition for participants.
During the Walk Across Texas! 25 Challenge, AgriLife Extension county agents will encourage Texans to be active with exercises that are at just the right intensity for their unique situation, said Mike Lopez, AgriLife Extension health program specialist, Bryan-College Station.
“If you want to increase your physical activity in a supportive environment, no matter where you are starting from, Walk Across Texas! is an excellent option for anyone looking for a safe and effective way to become more physically active,” Lopez said.
How is Walk Across Texas! unique?
Lopez said one of the unique aspects of the Walk Across Texas! program is that it is a physical activity promotion program that’s available to everyone.
“All Texans are encouraged to take part, regardless of fitness level,” he said. “And the team-based format connects people in a positive journey toward the goal of virtually traveling across the state.”
Youth participants in the Walk Across Texas! program
Lopez said the program also offers the flexibility of selecting a favorite physical activity to contribute toward the team mileage goal. The program provides tools to convert activities such as gardening and bicycling to their walking equivalent.
“This allows each team member to be more active and support their team in their own way,” he said. “And the team dynamic provides additional encouragement and support through its fun and motivating approach. It also gives participants the freedom to be engaged and active at their own pace, without setting unrealistic expectations.”
Green said another unique aspect of the program is AgriLife Extension’s vast network of county agents who collaborate with program partners and provide additional education, program activities and communications to engage local participation.
“This quarter-century of program success would not have been possible without the efforts of our county agents, program partners and participants across Texas who have continued to provide their support to the Walk Across Texas! program year after year,” he said.
Results supported by research
A research study published in BMC Public Health confirmed the effectiveness of the Walk Across Texas! program in helping people increase and maintain physical activity over an eight-week period, no matter their starting physical activity level.
The research team studying the program examined week-one to week-eight changes in self-reported physical activity in more than 11,000 adults who participated in the program.
Study results found that self-reported physical activity significantly improved from the first week to the eighth, increasing an average of nearly 5 miles per week or an additional 11,000 steps per week.
Mark Faries, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension primary investigator for the study, said one of the most encouraging findings from this study was that Walk Across Texas! attracted and helped participants from all physical activity levels.
“Participation in the program was able to help inactive and low-active participants become and remain physically active, even reaching recommended levels in as little as eight weeks,” Faries said. “These results support the effectiveness of the Walk Across Texas! program to help a diverse group of Texans engage and adopt a physically active lifestyle.”