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September 13, 2013

Gearing Up to Get In Shape: Cherokee County kicks off fitness programs

RUSK — “Feel the burn,” Cherokee County Human Resources Director Sidney Riley called out to a group of county employees as he led them in an exercise Thursday on the courthouse lawn.

One woman, moving her arms in a circle, quipped, “I am!”

Across the way, three members of an informal group dubbed “The Ponta Grannies” were busy filling out forms for the October Walk Across Texas program, while under a neighboring tent, Cherokee County Public Health employees invited people to get their flu vaccination.

It was all part of one-day health fair that promoted the health programs that can benefit Cherokee County residents.

Cherokee County Extension Agent Wendi Green said that the Walk Across Texas has been taking place locally for about 20 years, a state-wide program sponsored by Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension office to help “get individuals and families out and moving.”

The 8-week program encourages participants – who compete individually or in groups – in a fun way to get active.

“It's not just walking. People think you have to walk together, (but they can also go) biking, gardening, running, whatever they want to do, they just need to log their miles online,” Green said.

Like the FitCounty Cherokee initiative, “it's just another avenue that we have to encourage people in our county to get healthy,” Green said, adding that last year 197 participants took part in the Walk Across Texas program.

“That (gave) a health impact to our county (by reducing an estimate) $2.5 million in potential health problems,” she said, adding that this year a new component has been established for county employees.

The Weight-Loss Warriors Challenge is based on the percentage of body weight contestants lose during the Walk Across Texas challenge, held in Cherokee County through Nov. 15.

The goal, Green said, “is to try to encourage us to get healthy (because) we're the leaders.

“If I'm someone who teaches about health wellness, I need ot make sure that I'm taking that same initiative and leading by example,” she said.

Zoe Ann Conway of Jacksonville was enthused about this year's walk.

“I've participated in this before, with the TOPS Club, but this year I'm doing it with the Ponta Grannies,” she said, explaining that she was inspired to get involved three years ago after surgery.

“I got new knees,” the senior grinned, reaching down to pat her legs. “My knees were bad and I couldn't walk, and now that I can walk I wanted to give this a try.”

Her goal – besides to flex her improved walking ability – was to drop weight, “and I actually lost weight both times, about five pounds,” she said, encouraging others to get involved. “You have got to keep yourself healthy.”

She encouraged others to get involved. “Stay healthy (because in order to do something like this you have to keep yourself healthy,” Conway said.

Riley, who also has had knee replacement surgery, said his goal was to show fellow county employees – and others – “some simple exercises that they can do in their offices to stay limber, to stay loose.”

The goal, he said, is to look at what achievements they've made – like losing “five pounds or two pounds or even one pound” – and looking at them as “small victories that add up to a great success.

“A healthy employee is less prone to be sick, less prone to have accidents or injuries,” he said, reiterating Green's comments. “To me, wellness equates to a better employee to the constituents of Cherokee County because we're on the job, we're working, and we're healthy. (Employees) are more productive because they're not apt to be injured or ill.”

The Public Health booth provided another health defense by offering low cost flu and pneumonia vaccines. (They have planned an Oct. 16 drive-though flu clinic in Rusk, as well as another Kung Flu Fighting clinic at their Jacksonville office, officials said.)

Clinical Coordinator Cheryl Hill said that last year, some 1,500 adult vaccines and 1,100 to 1,200 children's vaccines were given at the 46 off-site flu clinics in the county.

“We were going into schools, into churches and businesses,” as well as offering the first ever drive-through flu clinic, in their attempt to bring immunizations into the communities where people lived and worked, she said.

However, on Thursday, “our primary purpose today is for the county employees” to get vaccinated, said public health executive director Chris Taylor. “We started about 10 a.m., and have had in less than an hour, we've had about 30 stop in.”

He added that immunizations and vaccinations “are one of the biggest means public health has had in helping the public.

“When you look at the World Health Organization (reports), they'll tell you that with certain vaccines, when you get that first dose, you've got a better than 90 percent chance of not getting that disease; when you get all the scheduled doses, that number goes up to 99 percent protection,” he said.

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