Building on twelve weeks of experience and practice, several groups of LIUNA-related employees in the Midwest region have a plan for the calorie-packed “eating season” – aka, the Holidays – that is fast-approaching.

“We’re walking,” says Kathy Utter, RN, who, along with Midwest Region Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund (MRLHSF) Director Angie King, spearheaded the Midwest’s “Walk the Region” competition. “Our goal for the Holidays is to hold our own,” she says, “to maintain our weight.”

The Holiday phase is the latest in a competition that began last July when King, citing data that shows physical activity can save five to 12 percent in the annual cost of health care, sought an easy way to draw LIUNA members and their families into more exercise. “Walk the Region,” she says, “encourages fitness while also reminding us of the general importance of making better lifestyle choices.”

“We focused on walking,” says Utter, “because it is affordable and easy to do. You don’t have to join a gym, and you don’t have to buy into heavy exercise. All you have to do is increase your walking.

“Losing weight can seem like a daunting challenge,” she continues, “so we didn’t put the emphasis on pounds. Rather, our competition is just about the miles walked. If you increase your activity, the weight loss will take care of itself.”

Every participant in the Walk the Region competition got a Union Built – Union Fit t-shirt and a pedometer – a small, light-weight device that records the distance each participant walks. Typically, a person walks some 2,000 to 4,000 steps per day. The ultimate fitness goal is about 10,000 steps per day.

Scientific Evidence Backs Walking

A study in the October issue of Chest, a publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, shows that “briskly” walking 12 miles per week (covering about three miles in an hour, three or four times a week) significantly increases aerobic fitness and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Over the course of the nine month study, participants also lost an average of three pounds.

Another study, reported in the August issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, points out that regardless of cholesterol level, men can cut their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in half by being physically fit. The analysis shows that the equivalent of five 30-minute segments of physical activity (walking about 135 minutes per week) reduces mortality risk by 50 percent.

Individuals were supported by being members of their team. Five groups joined the first, eight-week competition, which was followed by an October event and, now, the Holiday challenge:

  • LIUNA Midwest Region Office employees
  • IL Laborers’ and Contractors’ Joint Apprenticeship Training Program
  • Southern Illinois Laborers’ & Employers’ Health and Welfare Fund
  • Central Laborers’ Welfare Fund
  • Laborers Local Union # 773 staff
  • TLC – the Therapy Center of Southern and Central Illinois
  • Railroad Maintenance and Industrial Health and Welfare Fund

“Most teams found times when they could walk together,” says King. “They got up a little earlier to do it, or they went out at lunch time. Doing it together makes a big difference.” Results were recorded and submitted to the regional office on a weekly basis. The winners were the group that, on a per person average, walked the farthest over the course of the competition.

Participants also received weekly health tips about walking from the MRLHSF. “For instance,” says Utter, “some of us were not used to so much walking and got shin splints. A health tip explained the problem and what we could do about it.”

Also, with the current holiday challenge, all participants are getting a quick health check that provides blood sugar, blood pressure, lipid profile (good and bad cholesterol counts) and body fat percentage readings. When the challenge is complete, a second set of readings will allow a comparison and, hopefully, encourage further progress.

“Everyone who has participated has increased their walking miles,” says Utter, “and most lost some significant weight, too. I think everyone feels like they’re doing something that’s really good for themselves. When the competitions end, most of us are going to keep walking as part of our lifestyle.”

Much of the credit for all the walking in the region goes to Midwest Regional Manager, LIUNA Vice President and Assistant to the General President Ed Smith. Placing some personal, year-long, weight-loss side bets with his colleagues on the staff of Local # 773, Smith took up the walking challenge with a vengeance last February. Since then, the staff, in combination, has lost over 300 pounds, and it won the region’s first walking competition.

“We’ve done it the union way – together,” says Smith. “It has been a lot of fun, and where else can the biggest losers be the biggest winners?”

[Steve Clark]