Residents urged to step out to Jamaica

Take a hike. That’s the best advice for those wanting to see the world, get fit and even win a cool $1,000 travel prize.

Bob Pope of the Penticton Parks and Recreation Department and Charleen Edis of Edis Computers with a map of the latest destination for the Penticton Steps Out program

Bob Pope of the Penticton Parks and Recreation Department and Charleen Edis of Edis Computers with a map of the latest destination for the Penticton Steps Out program

Take a hike. That’s the best advice for those wanting to see the world, get fit and even win a cool $1,000 travel prize.

The award-winning and internationally recognized Penticton Steps Out walking program officially got underway last week. This time participants will be trekking their way in virtual style across the country known as the Land of Beauty, Jamaica.

“The joy of this program is that you don’t have to get up and be at the community centre or the lake at 7:30 in the morning to go on a walking trek,” said recreation co-ordinator Bob Pope, who was the driving force behind developing the concept eight years ago. “With this, all you do is put your pedometer on and you try and get your 10,000 steps a day then log in that total at night.

“It’s independent and it’s walking and it’s our vehicle to get people doing more and, then once they start feeling better, they start doing even more.”

As more and more people heard about the program over the years, many other communities around the world have participated and Pope has been invited to speak to government officials about the plan and its success. The provincial government even used it prior to the 2010 Olympics as part of its plan to get residents 20-per-cent fitter by the Olympics. Overall it is estimated that more than 50,000 people have taken millions of steps.

“We’ve won a number of innovation and technology awards so I’m pretty proud of it, but the real reward is how many it has helped both physically and emotionally as well since it started,” said Pope. “The testimonials and the contact with the people has been wonderful. I’ve heard from those who have lost their partners and didn’t know what they were going to do and this has helped them get through those difficult times.

“This gets them in shape, gets them more social, gets them more inspired, I mean there’s so many benefits to this.”

However he did recall one negative letter from a man who became so involved with the program, losing 25 pounds in the process, that his wife suspected him of having an affair.

“She did eventually start joining so it worked out in the end,” said Pope.

However Lorrie Hundal is one of those people who is quick to sing the praises of Steps Out since signing up several years ago.

“Steps Out is a very different type of program,” said Hundal, who developed her own online method to help people find others in their neighbourhood looking for partners to walk with. “A lot of people work better — I know I do — when you find somebody to walk with. The other thing I really like about it is that it makes you a lot more health conscious and also is very good for mental health and just your overall outlook on life and you meet people you would not otherwise.”

The specific design of the program is such when participants go to the website to log in their steps, they get to see where they have travelled in the specified country, complete with pop-ups featuring photographs, highlights of the region and other interesting facts.

“Visual is key for a lot of people, to be able to see yourself travelling across Hawaii or someplace like that,” said Hundal.

The virtual concept is thanks to the work of a local firm Edis Computers which has developed the required programs and even took over the entire program during the closure of the community centre for nearly a year.

“It was just too important to let Steps Out die so we weren’t about to let that happen,” said Charleen Edis. “They have done six medical studies using the program and basically people on every continent have been using the Steps Out program and that’s a real credit to Bob Pope and the other staff and it all started here.”

Another unique and popular spin off was the rec department’s speaker series which attracted outside sponsors allowing the city to bring in some particularly interesting people like Dr. Art Hister and two sessions with Discovery astronaut Alvin Drew who made his second appearance here recently.

Edis is overseeing the majority of the program this year and unlike in the past, this time around there is no sign-up fee.

For more information or to register log into http://stepsout.com/penticton.

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