Published on 03/04/98

New Fitness Plan Focuses on Health, Not Weight

Counting miles, rather than calories, seems the more popular health plan these days. And a University of Georgia nutrition scientist said that's a healthy trend.

"Today's thoughts on 'good' health aren't based on an ideal body weight," said Connie Crawley, an extension food and nutrition specialist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "It's a lot more about proper nutrition and regular exercise."

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A September 1997 study released by the American Dietetic Association said 79 percent of Americans believe nutrition affects their health. However, only 39 percent say they're doing all they can to eat healthily.

On the other hand, Crawley said, most people (about 80 percent), realize that without regular exercise, eating more healthily may not have much effect on health, particularly on weight loss. But in the Southeast, only 39 percent exercise on a regular basis.

A new Georgia Extension Service program, "Walk-a-Weigh," will promote exercise more than weight loss.

"Walk-a-Weigh helps Georgians get healthier without focusing on a number on a scale," Crawley said. "Health is about a lot more than just what you weigh."

The Extension Service plans to debut "Walk-a-Weigh" in mid- to late-March. Two counties, Washington and Laurens, have piloted the new program. Crawley said reaction has been good so far.

The new program shows participants how to become healthier through regular exercise, she said. It stresses walking, alone or in teams.

"County agents offering the programs will have educational sessions with nutrition information to help participants eat healthier, too," she said.

Laurens County Extension Agent Jane Tripp is one of the agents piloting the program. "The part my participants like best is that they're seeing positive results," she said. "Everyone is losing weight, blood pressure is dropping and their body measurements are shrinking."

Tripp likes the flexibility of the program, too.

"I can customize the nutrition information to the participants here," she said. "It also allows them to help each other with encouragement and sharing."

Tripp's current program is 10 weeks long. But agents leading programs can vary that based on their, and their clients', needs and preferences.

"I feel like if we can go longer than the 10-week plan we have now, we'll probably have even healthier participants at the end," Tripp said.

Besides lowering their weight and blood pressure, she said, people in the program are seeing cholesterol levels drop and are losing fat and gaining muscle.

The ADA offers some pointers on their World Wide Web site that can help anyone become healthier.

  • Develop a fitness and eating plan that fits your lifestyle.
  • Look for variety, both in your diet and your exercise.
  • Let your needs and preferences guide your food choices.
  • It's your responsibility to decide how much and how often you eat and exercise.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid can help you make smart eating choices.

Crawley said "Walk-a-Weigh" is based on the most current research in health, diet and exercise.

"The old way of counting every calorie isn't as effective as a healthy overall eating plan and regular exercise," she said. "We're seeing results for everyone in this plan that aren't just seen on the scale."