Manitouwadge residents benefit from amazing walk

Staff at the Manitouwadge General Hospital talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to motivating local residents to be more active.

Last March, the hospital-based Manitouwadge Family Health Team (MFHT) took the initiative to organize a project called the Amazing Walk. The event, which started in May, encouraged residents to walk distances similar to those between Europe’s capitals to end up in Paris during an eight-week period.

MFHT director Lee Kriniski adapted the concept of the Amazing Race, a reality TV game show, to create an event to motivate Manitouwadge residents to improve their health and well-being. The northwestern Ontario town of about 2,100 residents is located approximately 330 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. “Living a healthy, active lifestyle is the single most important way people can improve their health and well-being, ameliorate illness, and increase their life expectancy,” said Kriniski, who also participated in the walk. “Choosing an activity such as walking, which the majority of people are able to do, was one way to reach our entire community.” Teams consisting of six members each walked the distance between five European countries over a period of eight weeks. Pedometers were provided to each participant and the distance was converted to steps. Each team was required to walk the total distance in a cumulative group effort.

“This allowed individuals on the team to contribute as their fitness levels permitted,” said Kriniski. The journey was divided into four twoweek segments and included pit stops on each leg of the walk. Pit stops were designed to increase community awareness and participation in local events. Every two weeks, teams would pick up their new travel itineraries at the family health team office. Each package included information on the city they were walking to, pit stop requirements, and information on a health topic. At the end of each segment, teams that successfully completed all of the requirements, which included walking the total distance, attending pit stops, and completing a quiz, were entered in a draw for prizes. Teams that successfully completed all four segments were entered in a grand prize draw. The grand prize, won by team Nemesix, was a guided outdoor adventure tour and six mountain bikes. “The goal of this event was to encourage and support daily activity,” explained Kriniski.

“The Amazing Walk is a tremendous success in that it brought people together not only as individuals to improve their personal health and well-being, but it brought people together as a team, highlighting the social aspect of healthy living to reduce social isolation and create community.” Kriniski said many of the participants are continuing to walk and be active as a result of the event. “It has been shown that it takes a minimum of eight weeks to create a habit,” she said. Initially, 318 participants registered for a total of 53 teams. A total of 47 teams, or 282 participants ranging in ages from seven to 75, ended up finishing the walk. Teams walked distances from Luxembourg to Brussels, Brussels to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to London, and finally London to Paris. To challenge activity and fitness levels, distances were increased as the event progressed. In the initial leg, teams were required to walk a total of six kilometres a day to reach their destination.

“By the final leg, we were expecting each team to walk a total of 24 kilometres per day,” said Kriniski. The walk ended with a celebratory “Evening in Paris” community picnic, where a Paris-like atmosphere was created with mock storefronts of a café, bakery, wine store, and an ice cream shop. The MFHT opened its doors in May 2010. The team, located in the Manitouwadge General Hospital under the governance of the hospital board, focuses on chronic disease management, health promotion and illness prevention. Geoff Newton, a member of team “Are We There Yet,” said the walk helped him lose weight and get into better shape.

At the start of the walk, a health assessment determined that Newton was obese by World Health Organization standards, a fact that both surprised and motivated him. He participated in the walk, increased his overall activity level and began following serving suggestions based on the Canada Food Guide. “I used the Amazing Walk as part of a complete approach to improving my overall health,” said 58-year-old Newton. At the end of the eight weeks, he had lost 19 pounds, his body mass index and body fat percentage had been reduced, and he continues to lose excess weight. Jocelyn Bourgoin, chief executive officer of the Manitouwadge hospital, said the organization’s strategic plan calls for the promotion of wellness in the community, and the Amazing Walk fit the bill.

“The event was a huge success,” said Bourgoin, who also participated. “It created a major buzz in our community and was the event of the summer.”

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