That's the number of participants who completed a Montana State University Extension program that integrated nutrition, self observation and additional physical activity to build healthier lifestyles. The "Steps to a New You" program ran not only through MSU and many of its county offices in 2006, but also through Wyoming and Idaho Extension programs. As a follow-up, close to 30 Montana counties are in the middle of or have scheduled "Steps" programs for 2007, said Lynn Paul, MSU Extension nutrition specialist and the program's facilitator.
"This is designed to emphasize behavior change and activity change with the help of a support group," Paul said.
Missoula County Extension Agent Kathy Revello said that in the group she organized, some people lost a few pounds and some didn't. "But that wasn't the point. This wasn't a weight-loss program. It was about a healthy lifestyle."
Laurie Lautt, MSU Extension Agent in Big Horn County, said her group set walking goals that they continued to surpass. Their first goal was to "get to" Las Vegas. When they had accumulated enough steps among themselves to reach there, they decided to walk to Disney World, and then they headed to the Statue of Liberty. "Toad" Nedens, whom Lautt termed "a real fitness buff," logged close to a million steps during the program.
Randi (pronounced Raan-dee) Torske was one of the participants. An employee at Big Horn Hospital in Hardin, she said she learned a lot from the program.
"It has taken a while, but now I walk about a mile and a half every day," Torske said. She said the one of the most useful parts of Steps to a New You program was that it emphasized that a specific body type or look was not important.
Paul said "Steps to a New You" gives people an opportunity to look at what works and what doesn't as they try to develop healthy behaviors.
"You have to feel good about yourself," Torske said. "Look at yourself and don't compare yourself to anybody else. If you pick up ideas from other people and try to apply them to yourself, it doesn't necessarily work. The program gave permission for you to be yourself."
Walking "is an effort for me," Torske added. "I have to make myself do it . . . . I walked in the snow. I walked in a blizzard. I walked in the rain. I walked every day without fail."
Mary Lou Gilman, one of the participants in Missoula County, said finding time to exercise has always been a challenge. She said she "started walking at noon rather than spending my lunchtime at my desk. I started walking to work, and I got two border collie puppies. In an effort to make sure they get plenty of exercise, I get plenty too."
In addition to adding some sort of physical activity into their lives, participants read books, and met regularly. Each meeting had a different focus. One would be on intuitive eating, another on healthy snacks, portion sizes, body image, or to share helpful strategies. One participant started dancing regularly. Others made time for swimming. Many began walking groups.
"For me, it wasn't so much paying attention to what I was eating so much as it was paying attention to when I was full and when I was thirsty," Gilman said. "Now my cloths are fitting more loosely. I've dropped a pants' size and have just a general feeling of well-being."
In the Montana group, participants reported caring less about what other people thought about them, reported more satisfaction with their weight and appearance, and that they were happier with themselves.
In Missoula, a similar program is starting, Revello said. Participants in "official" Steps programs in 2007 include: Big Horn County, Blaine County, Cascade County, Choteau County, Crow Agency, Custer County, Daniels County, Deer Lodge County, Fergus County, Ft. Belknap Reservation, Lake County, Lincoln County, Meagher County, , Pondera County, Powder River County, Ravalli County, Hill County, Lake County, Fergus County, Park County, Missoula County, Richland County, Roosevelt County, Rosebud-Treasure County, Sanders County, Sheridan County, Stillwater County, Teton County, Toole County, Valley County and Yellowstone County.
More program information is available at http://www.montana.edu/extensionnutrition/
Lynn Paul (406) 994-5702 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Kathy Revello (406) 258-4200, Laurie Lautt (406) 665-9770, Karen Tyra (406) 322-8035.