Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 25, 2009

Reach the Beach activity challenge begins

Surf’s up!

A new summer-themed physical activity challenge, “Reach the Beach,” kicks off with registration today through June 30.

Sponsored by the School of Education’s Department of Health and Physical Activity (HPA) and the Benefits office, the program is open to faculty and staff at Pitt’s five campuses and the Mechanicsburg satellite location. Research associates, post docs, spouses or partners of eligible participants and UPMC employees who work in the same department with eligible Pitt participants also may participate.

Whether on vacation or “stay-cation” this summer, Reach the Beach participants will pass Ocean City, Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Daytona Beach as they increase their daily physical activity minutes to “surf” their way to Florida’s South Beach over the course of the six-week program.

Participants can register as individuals or as teams of 3-5 members under the leadership of a designated “Big Kahuna,” who will draft team members on Surf’s Up Day, July 1.

The program is similar to last year’s Pitt Steps It Up challenge, which drew some 1,700 participants. The twist this year is that instead of counting steps, the goal is to raise the number of minutes spent in moderate physical activity.

Benefits director John Kozar said he anticipates that at least as many participants as last year’s program will sign up for Reach the Beach. “You really don’t need to be on campus to participate, it’s all online,” he said. And the shift to counting minutes s “makes it simple for those who don’t want to wear a pedometer.”

Week 1 begins July 6 with an initial goal of 125 minutes of physical activity. The target activity level increases by 25 minutes each week. The final week’s goal of 250 minutes is the equivalent of 50 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day, an amount that is conducive to weight loss or weight maintenance, said HPA exercise physiologist David O. Garcia, who is coordinating the challenge.

“If I get all 1,125 minutes, I’m going to make it to Florida,” he said.

Reach the Beach is not a weight-loss program, although increased activity can help people for whom weight loss is a goal, Garcia said. Instead, the challenge aims to encourage participants to get into the habit of getting some sort of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking, biking or aerobics every day.

“For most people, time is the biggest barrier,” Garcia said. To overcome that, he wants participants to “hang 10,” or commit to bouts of 10 minutes of moderate physical activity.

Research by HPA chair John M. Jakicic, director of Pitt’s Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, has shown that multiple short bouts of activity are as effective as one long session when it comes to improving aerobic fitness.

Garcia suggested if it seems difficult to schedule a half-hour of daily exercise, putting in 10 minutes at breakfast, 10 at lunch and 10 at dinner could be a more realistic goal. “The message is to get some activity every day,” Garcia said.

Reach the Beach participants accrue points for each day they hang 10, with additional points for reaching the weekly minutes goal. Points entitle participants to earn chances for individual and team prize drawings at the end of the six-week challenge.

While everyone has a chance to win by earning daily points, the top three individuals (highest cumulative minutes) and teams (highest minute average) among all competitors also will be awarded prizes.

New features include a link to faster registration for participants from last year’s activity challenge, a function that allows participants to add late minutes or correct errors in their minutes (although they won’t receive additional points for such entries) and an optional weight tracker for those who would like to keep tabs on their weight.

Garcia noted that the weight-tracking feature is for participants’ convenience and is not part of the Reach the Beach challenge.

As in last year’s Pitt Steps It Up challenge, Garcia will be encouraging participants with daily emails, which he said participants found to be a big motivator. In addition, weekly tips and healthful recipes will be posted online. And, participants will be able to share their own successes with Garcia and perhaps see their input featured in his emails.

Kozar said the support makes a difference. “You feel there’s someone there with you supporting you throughout the campaign,” he said. He noted that a number of weight race participants, when it became apparent they wouldn’t reach their goal, simply quit. He’s hoping that more people will continue to the finish in this challenge. “We’re successful if we try to engage people and keep them engaged,” he said.

Participants can register online at

— Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply