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September 25, 2008

New fitness challenge planned

It’s time to get those jogging shoes out of the closet and join Pitt’s latest Fitness for Life health initiative.

Sponsored by the Department of Health and Physical Education and the Benefits office, the “Pitt Steps It Up” walking challenge is a six-week, pedometer-based program for faculty and staff at the five campuses and the Mechanicsburg satellite location.

Also eligible to participate are spouses and partners of Pitt employees and UPMC employees who work in the same department with Pitt employees. However, other UPMC employees, students and temporary employees are not eligible.

Registration for the challenge at begins Sept. 29, when the web site will be activated. The walking program will run from Oct. 13 to Nov. 21. Prizes such as Pitt gear and duffel bags filled with wellness goods are expected to be awarded on Nov. 25, according to information provided Sept. 16 by organizers in the Department of Health and Physical Education.

The walking challenge is designed to increase physical activity levels within a structured, web-based framework where participants log the number of steps they take each day. (For those taking time off or who cannot log their steps on weekends, steps for the week may be entered up until noon on Monday of the following week.)

Individuals will be awarded points according to whether they log their steps daily and whether they reach the weekly step goals, which will be posted at the challenge web site.

The overall goal of the program is to have participants work up to averaging 70,000 steps a week. Week one, for example, has a weekly goal of 45,000 steps.

Participants also can add “equivalent” steps to their total for other physical activities such as biking or swimming; a conversion chart will be posted on the web site.

The walking challenge is modeled after the 12-week MyHealth Weight Race held earlier this year, but with some adjustments.

Participants still can choose to join a team of three-five members or they can go it alone. Team standings will be posted in real time as steps are logged, and prizes will be awarded in both the individual and team divisions via a weighted lottery system based on total points, unlike the weight race where only top scoring teams won prizes and goals varied by individual teams.

“One of the lessons learned from the weight race was that not everyone was comfortable joining a team even though they did want to participate,” said John Kozar, director of Benefits. He added that some weight race participants disliked the intense competition among teams.

Under the walking challenge rules all individuals are eligible to win a prize, regardless of their progress toward the weekly goals, as long as they record their daily steps, Kozar noted. Daily email reminders will be sent to all who sign up for the challenge.

In the individual division, points will be awarded as follows:

• 1 point for each day logged.

• 5 points if the weekly step goal is achieved.

Thus, a maximum of 12 points can be earned each week, and a maximum of 72 points for the duration of the challenge.

In the team division, points will be awarded as follows:

• 1 point for each day that a team member has steps logged.

• 5 points for each individual team member who achieves the weekly goal.

Thus, if all members on a team of five log their steps every day and all reach the weekly goal, the team will have earned 60 points.

At the end of the six weeks, the total points will be averaged by the number of team members; thus the maximum number of points a team can earn is 72.

Achieving more steps than the weekly or total goal does not result in extra points.

Participants, at registration, will be invited to become team captains, who act as the team contact person, are responsible for naming the team and will be involved with “drafting” teammates, something that is a new feature in the walking challenge. The draft will be held online Oct. 6.

Those non-team captains who want to be on a team indicate that when they register, which makes them draft-eligible. Upon being drafted, an email will be sent to the participant to accept or decline the invitation. (Individuals might decline, for example, if they knew someone else was going to draft them.) Those not chosen or who decline all invitations will be placed in the individual division.

All participants will be mailed pedometers at their campus address.

The “Pitt Steps It Up” web site also will feature links to weekly lessons and tip sheets and an “Ask David Garcia” link for questions. Garcia is an exercise professional in the Department of Physical Education.

Kozar acknowledged that the original plan was to launch the walking challenge soon after the completion of last winter’s MyHealth Weight Race.

“We did want to build on the momentum of the weight race, which was highly successful,” with more than 1,300 participants and a total loss of more than 6,000 pounds, Kozar said. “It was really a technical thing. We wanted to place this on the web to be as paperless as possible and to make enrollment easy and communication to participants easy, as well as have safeguards for participants’ privacy. The software was developed in-house, so that it is sustainable for future challenges of this kind, including being able to involve the community or other universities in competitions. We needed to ensure that the software was sound and sustainable, and that took some time.”

Kozar added that the timing of the walking challenge to end before Thanksgiving should allow reasonably good weather for walkers.

He said Pitt is planning another weight race in January.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 3

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