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KORRIE WENZEL: A Herald challenge: Walk for personal and civic health

Korrie Wenzel

Visiting with Dr. Casey Ryan, outgoing president at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, makes a fellow want to take a walk. A brisk one at that.

Earlier this spring, Ryan announced he would be stepping down as the hospital’s president, effective at the end of the year. And last month, during a meeting with a handful of Herald employees in a conference room at Altru, Ryan said his years in the business as a physician and administrator have convinced him that self-practiced preventative care is really the best way America’s health woes can be solved.

Genetics certainly play a role on our personal health, he said. Meaning, if our parents live through their eighth or ninth decade, we are statistically likely to do the same. Of course, we need to practice our own form of preventative care, too, and refrain from bad habits such as smoking, drinking-and-driving, not wearing seatbelts and especially leading a sedentary lifestyle.

“Primary prevention is huge,” he said. “So, let’s say your mom and dad both died in their 90s. Statistically, if you take care of yourself, you should make it into your 90s. But …”

And here comes Casey’s big right hook:

“But, if you weigh 280 pounds and should weigh 180, what are you doing to your knees and hips? And you get diabetes, because there is a little risk in the family but if you maintain reasonable body weight, you won’t get it. And you get high blood pressure. That all drives up the cost of care.”

Pretty strong words, but sage advice nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Altru this month is promoting a program called “30 Days of Running,” which is designed to get Grand Forks people off of the couch and onto sidewalks, the Greenway and any other place where folks can stretch their legs, lungs and self-discipline.

Google that program and check it out online; other events and activities are listed there as well.

Spurred by that recent conversation with Ryan and others at Altru, the Herald last week unveiled its own program to encourage workers to be more active and healthy. We call it “Walk to Win,” and we’re using cash prizes and daily 20-minute paid breaks to entice all Herald employees to get into the habit of exercise through good, short walks in downtown Grand Forks.

Those who choose to participate in the program — which will run through September — are eligible for weekly cash drawings. In the end, we’ll all win.

Since it started Monday and through 3 p.m. Thursday, Herald employees already had gone for a combined 145 walks, and that is just counting our downtown location and not the print plant on the edge of town. That equals 2,900 minutes of walking, or 48.33 man hours, in about four days.

The genesis for our in-house program came from that discussion with Ryan and Altru’s other executives. It was a bit odd to hear such firm talk about self-health from a physician who makes a living healing others, but it really gets a person thinking.

So when downtown this summer, look around and take note of Herald employees who are taking advantage of the program. I’ve seen many of our workers hitting the sidewalks daily — myself included.

And the Herald officially challenges other local businesses to do the same. Business owners, presidents and managers may balk at the idea of paying employees to leave the building for 20 minutes a day, but really, isn’t it worth it in the end?

Ryan is right. We need to take better care of ourselves, instead of hoping others will do it for us when it’s too late.

We just need the right motivation to get started, whether that comes from ourselves, from our workplace or from the top-ranking official at the local hospital.