America On the Move: Small steps to being fit

Adding more activity into your day is as easy as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or choosing a parking space at the far corner of the parking lot instead of right in front.
Jim Hill was panting as he answered questions about America On the Move, a nonprofit fitness program based on a formula of small changes that can keep weight in check.

The program advises people to add 2,000 steps (about a mile) to their daily activity and subtract 100 calories (about a pat of butter) from their diet.

"As you get older, it gets harder and harder not to gain weight," said 54-year-old Hill as he strode briskly to his next meeting with cell phone in hand. Hill, who said he is "addicted to pedometers," sets a goal of 11,000 steps each day.

The professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver is a 5-foot-9-inch guy who admittedly could stand to lose 10 pounds. He understands the struggle that many Americans are up against.

Hill arrives early to meetings and paces during them. He opts to walk rather than lounge in airports. He listens to the news on headphones rather than as a couch potato in front of the TV. He scans the world around him for stairs he can climb.

A weight-maintenance plan

America On the Move is not a weight-loss plan, but rather a weight-maintenance plan. Americans gain an average of two pounds a year. Walking an extra 2,000 steps -- plus better eating habits -- will prevent that weight gain, he said. "Two-thousand steps are enough to make a difference, but if you do more, that's better," Hill said.

Since co-founding the America On the Move in Denver, Hill has heard that people following it are making huge changes in small steps. "You give them a message they can actually do in their busy, crazy lives," he said.

Last year, New Mexico was one of 16 states to push people to try America On the Move. Statewide, health officials say, more than half of New Mexico's residents are overweight.

New Mexico meets the challenge

In challenging everyone to get fitter, the state Health Department invited communities to latch onto a pedometer, mark their progress on the America On the Move Web site and compete for recognition from Gov. Bill Richardson.

This month, those who lived up to the challenge were honored. Dona Ana County, Albuquerque and Taos garnered the top awards at a ceremony in Las Cruces for the winners of the Governor's Challenge for Health Communities and Worksites. The Department of Health, on behalf of the governor, issued awards for the most participation, completion of the program and steps logged during the six-week challenge to get New Mexicans more active. About 3,000 participants tracked their mileage.

Ranchos Elementary School in Taos won for the healthiest work site with fewer than 100 participants. "It was really amazing," Sandra Garcia, a secretary at the school who participated and helped organize the program, said.

Ten members of the staff logged 5 million steps. And 63 percent of participants at the school finished the course.

"You had to up your mileage every day in order to make the goal," Garcia said. "I learned it's real easy to put in a mile or two a day."

She clocked 5,000 steps just cleaning the house.

Ranchos Elementary School is no longer involved in America On the Move, but some teachers are still wearing pedometers and pushing themselves to walk more, Garcia said.

"If we can inspire people to be part of something big, this is the way we're going to address this obesity epidemic," Hill said. "That's my hope."

To schools, America On the Move also offers six lessons that help students understand that ordering Super Size fries will cost them an extra 4,000 steps that day.

"We reached 3 million elementary kids last year," Hill said. A middle-school curriculum is new this year.

Hill was a member of the Expert Panel on Obesity for the National Institutes of Health, which developed guidelines for the prevention and treatment of obesity.

At a glance
  • The United States is the most overweight nation in the world.
  • More than 120 million Americans -- 65 percent of the adult population -- are overweight; nearly 59 million, or 31 percent, are obese.
  • More than 60 percent of American adults do not get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and 25 percent of American adults aren't physically active at all. Source: America On the Move

How to get started

America On the Move, a science-based, walking program, is something that almost anyone can try. The program has guidelines for work sites, schools, families, walking groups, faith-based groups, health plans and civic groups.

And if you want to go it alone, there's an option for that, too.

The basic group and individual programs allow you to register online for free. Each step counter costs $25, but discounts are available on multiple purchases. There are goal-setting, logging and tracking tools to use once you register at

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