Category Archives: Step It Up!

Keep Stepping It Up with a Walking Group

As many of you know – especially those who participated in last fall’s Step It Up! walking campaign, walking is one of the easiest ways to get your recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity.  Although most of us probably prefer walking when it’s warm and sunny out, with a little bit of creativity, walking really can be an all-weather activity. 

Last September, when our Step It Up! kickoff event was almost derailed by rainy weather, Wellness Champion Eleice Latham of HRD came up with the brilliant idea of walking the McCormack Building garage.  Since then, Eleice and her colleague Su Almeida have made a habit of walking around the garage during their lunch breaks, adding a lap each week.  Eleice and Su would like to invite any interested employees located in the McCormack Building or nearby to join them for a walk around the garage – it’s a great way to add some extra steps to your day and meet people who work in the building. The group will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:30 on the 4th floor of the garage, and anyone who is interested in joining can contact Eleice at   Reminder flyers will be posted near the elevators.

If you don’t work near the McCormack Building or are unable to join Eleice or Su on their walks, you might want to consider starting a walking group at your agency.  Groups can be an informal way to stay active during the work day and make new friends at your worksite.  You’ll also have that built-in sense of accountability that will keep you on track with you physical activity goals.  If you have access to an indoor space like a garage, you’ll be able to walk with your group in hot or cold weather, rain or shine, ensuring that you stay active all year long.


Margaret Byrne Stepped It Up With WellMASS

Last year, the GIC’s Margaret Byrne decided to take control of her health by embarking on a quest to lose weight, change her unhealthy eating habits, and feel better overall.  She started by joining Weight Watchers and exercising with her husband, and within a few months she lost weight, her clothes fit a little better, and she was happier with the way she looked and felt.  Her initial success inspired her to continue improving her health by participating in the WellMASS wellness program.  Margaret took the online Health Assessment and actively participated in this fall’s Step It Up! walking campaign, which has since motivated her to walk every chance she gets:

Since participating in the WellMASS Step It Up! campaign, I walk as much as possible.  For example, I no longer take the escalator when I get off at the train station; instead I use stairs and walk during my lunch hour.  On the days I don’t exercise, my husband and I do a three-mile walk around our neighborhood, which I probably never would have thought of doing if I didn’t participate in the WellMASS Step It Up! campaign.


Margaret Byrne before Weight Watchers and WellMASS

Margaret Byrne before Weight Watchers and WellMASS


Margaret Byrne after - 30 pounds lighter and much happier with her health!

Margaret Byrne after – 30 pounds lighter and much happier with her health!

Since last October, Margaret has lost 30 pounds and lowered her cholesterol levels.  As evidenced by her “before and after” photos, she looks and feels great.  She is still actively participating in Weight Watchers and the WellMASS program; her ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and never return to her unhealthy eating habits, and she is certainly on the right track.If you have a WellMASS success story like Margaret’s, I’d love to hear about it.  If you need a little help in your journey to become healthy, you can follow in her footsteps by going to the WellMASS website and taking your online Health Assessment, which will give you a snapshot of your overall health and suggestions and resources on how to improve it.

Take a Hike!

Fall is here, and it’s a great time of year to get outside and experience all of the natural resources Massachusetts has to offer.  I am looking forward to taking advantage of the Fall weather by going on hikes, and I was surprised to see that there are plenty of state-run hiking trails – over 80 in all! – located throughout Massachusetts.  No matter what part of the state you are in, you’re sure to never be far from a trail, so there is no excuse not to hop in your car and drive to the nearest trail to hike for a few hours.  Hiking, like walking, is something that almost anyone can participate in and experience health benefits from.  The Department of Conservation and Recreation has designated almost 20 trails as being “accessible” (either paved or made from stonedust and roughly 1/4 – 3/4 miles in length) or “assessed” (actual dirt trails that offer a more ‘rugged’ experience for adventure-seekers), so that even people with mobility limitations can still fully experience the trails. 

I encourage you to check out the DCR’s hiking webpages and pick a trail that suits your activity level; according to Pacific Standard magazine and the American Hiking Association, your body will thank you, as the health benefits of hiking are many:

  • Both uphill and downhill hiking have been shown to decrease LDL (or “bad cholesterol” ) levels, while uphill hiking also decreases triglyceride levels
  • Downhill hiking has also been shown to improve glucose tolerance and reduce blood sugar levels
  • Hiking has been shown to decrease feelings of depression, while walking around a mall may actually increase depressed feelings!
  • Hiking burns about 100 calories a mile, so if you were to hike at a 3-mile-per-hour pace, you’d burn 300 calories in an hour

For those of you tracking your steps as part of the Step It Up! walking campaign, hiking can be a fun and challenging way to add more steps to your day and experience nature at its best.  I hope you will join me in taking advantage of the perfect Fall weather to take a hike!

Desk Yoga?

Wellness Champion Martina Jackson is a great resource for health and wellness articles, so I was not surprised at the timeliness of a news story she sent me last week that focused on a unique way of incorporating exercise into the workday.  Washington Post fitness columnist Vicky Hallett is on a year-long quest to create a healthier office environment, and her article “Centeredbeing:  Getting exercise at your desk” detailed a “mindful movement system that’s designed to fight sedentary behavior and stress.”  The Centeredbeing program combines moves from yoga and pilates – and an office chair – to create a workout that can be done in short bursts at your desk, so there is no excuse for not having time to fit physical activity into your day.  The Centeredbeing movement fits nicely into the principles of the Step It Up! walking campaign in that it encourages thinking creatively to fit in activity whenever possible.  Every bit of activity counts, and you don’t need to be active for long periods of time all at once in order to see health benefits.  Mindful stretching activities are also great stress-reducers, as they can help you step away from your work and refocus for a few minutes at a time, without taking too much time away from your job duties, since they can be done right at your desk.  Stretching, like other forms of exercise, triggers the release of endorphins, positive mood chemicals within the brain, so even a short burst of exercise will leave you feeling a little less stressed.

Several agencies are ahead of the game when it comes to daily stretch breaks, and from the feedback I have heard, their employees are reaping the benefits of a little extra movement during the day.  The Executive Office of Elder Affairs has a daily Stretch & Smile program, Department of Career Services employees “Stand & Stretch” every afternoon, and the Group Insurance Commission has “stretch at your desk” breaks (often accompanied by fun music!) several times each day.  If your agency has a daily stretch break, I’d love to hear about it.  And if it doesn’t, I’d encourage you to try and incorporate some sort of stretching or movement into your day – your body, and mind, will thank you!

Join a Walkathon!

Looking for a way to get some extra steps in while helping out a good cause at the same time?  Well, you’re in luck, because there are a number of walkathons being held in the Boston area this fall.  In my opinion, this is the best time of year to be outside – it’s still warm enough that you don’t need a heavy coat, but cool enough that you won’t work up too much of a sweat going for a walk.  And, it’s always a good time to give back to the local community by walking for a good cause.  Every walkathon is going to have different fundraising requirements and walking routes, so there should be something out there for everyone.  The list below, graciously compiled by Liz Layton, provides a sampling of upcoming walks:

Sunday, September 23, 2012:  AIDS Walk for Life (

Saturday, September 29, 2012:  Pancreatic Cancer 5K Walk/Run (

Saturday, October 06, 2012:  Somerville Homeless Coalition 5K (

Saturday, October 13, 2012:  March of Dimes 5K (

Saturday, October 13, 2012:  Walk to Cure Diabetes (

Sunday, October 14, 2012:  Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (

Saturday, November 03, 2012:  Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk (

Sunday, May 05, 2013:  Walk for Hunger (

If you’re interested in joining a walk, try to get a team together – walking is always more fun with friends!  And if you haven’t walked in awhile, start slow and don’t feel like you need to walk far or fast; any exercise is better than none at all, especially if you’re doing it for a good cause!

Step It Up – Even in the Rain

I’m very excited that the Step It Up! walking campaign has finally begun, although I am not too thrilled about the rainy weather we’ve been having!  As was evident at yesterday’s kickoff walk, however, a little (or a lot of!) rain shouldn’t have to stop you from incorporating physical activity into your day.  One of our Wellness Champions had the great idea of walking indoors, in the McCormack Building garage, and a group of 25 eager walkers joined in on this activity.  In about 30 minutes, we walked 10 laps around the 4th level of the garage, which equalled around 3,000 steps, or 1.5 miles.   Although a parking garage may not be an obvious – or ideal- venue to walk around, it does serve as an option when the weather is less than perfect for walking outside.  Many state buildings in Boston and throughout the state have garages that can serve this same purpose – just be careful and watch out for cars and make sure the garage is ventilated well enough so that you are able to walk around it comfortably. 

A parking garage is not the only option for walking when the weather is bad; there are many other ways to work toward 10,000 steps without getting wet.  Almost all buildings have stairs, and stairclimbing is a great way to add steps, build muscle, and burn calories.  If you work in a tall building, start slowly and walk up a few flights of stairs at a time until you can build your resistance up enough to walk all the way to the top.  If you work in a low-rise, walk up and down the stairs several times a day.  Try to take the stairs in any building that has them (as long as you can get to them without an id badge or security code). 

If you’d like more interesting scenery, try walking around a mall or other enclosed public space on your lunch break, after work, or on the weekends.  Some malls even have walking clubs that you can join, if you’d like to walk as part of a group.  If you don’t have time to make it to the mall, try to add in more steps around the house by doing a little extra vacuuming or putting laundry away one piece at a time.  Walk around the house when talking on the phone instead of just sitting down.  While watching tv, stand up and walk in place, at least during commercial breaks.  Or better, yet, instead of watching tv, pop in an exercise dvd and get in 30-45 minutes of aerobic activity.  It’s still very much possible to be physically active on rainy days like today.  If you have a unique way that you stay active when the weather is bad, feel free to post it in the Comments section!

Step It Up is almost here – celebrate with a walk around Boston!

The kickoff of the Step It Up! walking campaign is almost here (September 4), and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the campaign’s launch than a walk around Boston.  Fall has always been my favorite season, partly because of the great weather in and around the city.  As temperatures start to get cooler, take advantage of the fact that you can walk at lunchtime and not work up too much of a sweat.  If you work in Boston, please join us on one of our kickoff walks around the city on September 4 and 5.  The walking schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, September 4
12:00 pm:  Depart Group Insurance Commission, 19 Staniford Street
1:00 pm:    Depart McCormack Building, One Ashburton Place

Wednesday, September 5
12:00 pm:  Depart State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza
1:00 pm:    Depart Executive Office of Health and Human Services, 600 Washington Street

Each walk will begin promptly at the time specified.  You will have the option of walking for 30 or 60 minutes, depending on your lunch schedule.  If you can’t attend one of the walks, or only make it into the city occasionally, there are still plenty of ways to explore Boston by foot on your own.  WalkBoston is an excellent (and free!) resource for planning walks around the city’s many neighborhoods and suburbs.  Their website provides free maps of pre-planned walking routes for over 50 locations in and around Boston, some of which have themes like art and “infamous” locations.  You can also sign up to join one of WalkBoston’s free guided walks.  Whether you have lived in Boston for decades or are new to the area, you are sure to discover something new about the city – and walk toward the goal of 10,000 steps a day while doing it – with WalkBoston!

Walking – A Great Form of Exercise

It seems like the Commonwealth of MA is not alone in promoting walking as a great form of exercise.  The Boston Globe recently ran an article on easy and fun ways to add more steps to your day, and a lot of the article’s suggestions mirror the ideas behind the upcoming Step It Up! walking campaign.  Step It Up!, which begins on September 4 (although registration is open now!), challenges participants to add 10,000 steps (or the equivalent of 5 miles) to their day, and as we (and the Globe article) like to point out, this doesn’t necessarily mean walking five miles straight.  It’s easy to add extra steps to your day by doing one or more of the following:

  • Park your car at the furthest spot in the parking lot
  • Get off one or two T stops early and walk the rest of the way to work
  • Take the stairs whenever possible (you’ll even burn more calories this way)
  • Get up and walk to your coworker’s desk instead of calling or sending them an email

You can also add more casual or leisure activity to your day in the form of household chores (vacuuming, gardening) or sports such as swimming or tennis.  Experts recommend getting 45-60 minutes of activity most days of the week, and the good news is that you don’t need to fit this activity in all at once.  It’s okay to split your activity into smaller increments, like taking three 15-minute walks,  and you’ll still receive the same health benefits. 

 Step It Up! participants will receive a free drawstring bag and a pedometer to track steps.  You can also count other activities toward your daily step total by using our online step conversion tool.  I think you’ll be surprised by how many steps you actually take each day, and hopefully you’ll be encouraged to add even more!

Hurley Building Health Hike & Hunt

It’s all too easy to spend the entire work day inside, sitting at your desk, especially if you don’t seem to have any real reason to leave.  Thankfully, employees at the Hurley Building in Boston recently had a great excuse to step away from their desks during their lunch break and get outside and explore the city – the first ever Hurley Building Health Hike & Hunt.  Wellness Champion extraordinaire Leslie Seifried of the Department of Career Services had the excellent idea of creating a scavenger hunt of sorts that incorporated walking around one of Boston’s hilliest neighborhoods, Beacon Hill, to solve a series of clues that led to three area landmarks. 

Below are the clues the first group of Hunters had to solve – do you know where these landmarks are?

It is such a Joy to take a walk on a summer’s day, even if it is up hill.  Boston is a city filled with Heritage (African, Italian, Irish & others) and historic Trails.  Many Meetings of great importance have been held at various locations in the city.  Some historic locations are still in existence today!

Americans pride themselves on moving onward and upward.  In some cases there is conflict and differing opinions.  There’s a House in this State that’s been, and still is, a location of debate and decision making affecting us as residents of Massachusettsguiding us like a Beacon on a Hill).

Working and/or living in Boston, when the day heats up with the summer sun, sometimes we all have the same thing in Common – we just need to go down to the old Pond to cool off and maybe find a Frog or two before getting back to our busy day.

Participants were able to complete the Hunt during their lunch hour on either August 8, 9, or 10, and were instructed to take a picture of themselves at each of the three locations as proof of their participation.  In all, 16 employees, in 6 different teams, from 3 different agencies, successfully completed the Hunt in 35 minutes or less.  At a post-Hunt celebration on Monday, participants got together over some healthy snacks, and everyone in attendance raved about how much fun they had, how great it was to get some exercise (especially in the form of walking up hills!) and have an excuse to leave their desks for a little while, and how they couldn’t wait for the next Hunt.  Leslie is hard at work on putting together another Health Hike & Hunt that will hopefully take place in September, and I personally can’t wait to participate in it.  Leslie’s great idea can easily be replicated at other agencies – a Hunt can be completed during lunch time, encourages healthy behaviors during the work day (like adding extra steps – a key principle of the upcoming Step It Up! campaign), and is great for employee morale.  If you’d like to host a similar event at your worksite, please send me an email.  Thanks again to Leslie for all her hard work, and I look forward to sharing details of the next Hunt!

Map Your Walk

Since registration for Step It Up! begins one week from today, I thought it would be fitting to mention one of my favorite ways to make walking more interesting –  using gmap-pedometer to track how far I’ve walked.  All participants who register for Step It Up!  will receive a free pedometer with which they can track their steps, but for those who would like to kick things up a notch and track mileage, plan out their routes ahead of time, or see a satellite view of their walking path, this tool is a great resource.  All you need to do is plug in your starting destination (I usually try to enter a specific address), zoom in on the map, and use the cursor to draw out your walking path.  The pedometer tool will then calculate how many miles you have walked, either one way or round-trip.  I like to use it in one of two ways:  to plan a walking route with a particular amount of mileage in mind, or to see how far I’ve traveled after I’ve returned from a walk.  I often find the results surprising, as it’s very easy to over- and under-estimate the amount of miles you walk on a given trip.
Since Step It Up! encourages participants to walk 10,000 steps, or the equivalent of 5 miles, each day, the gmap-pedometer tool will come in handy if you are trying to figure out how far you should walk to get those 10,000 steps in.  Remember that you don’t need to walk 5 miles all at once (you can break up your walks into shorter time or mileage increments), and you can sneak extra steps into your day by doing things like parking your car in a far-away spot, getting off a stop of two early on the T or bus and walking the rest of the way to work, or getting up to talk to your coworkers rather than call or email them.  Find ways to add extra steps to your day that interest you – I’d love to hear about any ideas you have via email or in the comments section.