Even individuals who shy away from gyms and exercise classes have an easy way to boost their fitness and improve their health, according to the organizers of one annual online program.

Now in its 15th year and hosted by the Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the 2018 Blue and You Fitness Challenge will be held March 1 through May 31 and encourages participants who are 13 and older to track their eligible activity on an interactive website, www.blueandyoufitnesschallenge-ark.com, said Linda Kyzer, a wellness program manager for employees at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Little Rock office.

“The Blue and You Fitness Challenge is a physical-activity contest that offers valuable tips on health and fitness, and it is for groups of any size,” she said. “You have to have at least two people to be a group, so the group can be as large as you can bring in for the challenge.

“We’ve had groups in the thousands before, and we’ve had many groups who are the size of two people,” Kyzer added. “The challenge is displayed on the website in a live leaderboard that is in real time. A group can see how well they are doing against other groups of similar size, and it brings out a lot of fun competitiveness. I know in our own company, it brings a whole new fun to everything.”

Participants can register as individuals within groups by Feb. 28, while groups have until Feb. 14 to register at the website. Groups can be businesses, civic organizations, churches, schools and others.

Those participating can log their activity via the challenge, Kyzer said.

“There’s not much you can’t do,” she said. “There’s all types of exercises that are cardio in nature — walking, running, swimming, jumping, table tennis and more.

“We’ve added in strength and flexibility exercise, like lifting weights, using stretch bands, dumbbells and so on, and there’s a point system based on how the individual moves ahead,” Kyzer added. “All of the information is aggregated together to give a group its score.”

The challenge’s activities are divided into moderate and vigorous categories, which allows participants to customize their plans and exercise, said Marci Manley, a deputy chief of communications for the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ headquarters in Little Rock.

“We think the Blue and You Fitness Challenge is a really fun way to get active,” she said. “Sometimes, the competitive edge to it can keep people engaged.

“We know that healthier people means happier people, and we encourage our own staff members to participate,” Manley added. “Happy employees are more productive employees, and we are an agency that is interested in encouraging people.”

The challenge’s moderate activities include aerobic machines with moderate intensity, low-impact aerobics, bicycling 5 to 9 miles per hour, boxing a punching bag, canoeing or rowing at less than 4 miles per hour, dancing, raking/hoeing/digging, push-mowing, shoveling snow, skating leisurely, playing softball, tae kwon do, volleyball on a solid court, walking, water skiing and weight machines.

Vigorous activities will include basketball, aerobic machines at vigorous-intensity levels, bicyling faster than 10 miles per hour, crossfit, jogging, judo, jujitsu, jumping rope, karate, kayaking in rapids, kick-boxing/Tae Bo, mountain climbing, raquetball/squash, running, swimming laps, wheelchair wheeling, tennis singles, volleyball in a sand court, Zumba and high-impact aerobics.

“People log their points online, and it’s easy and fun; the challenge comes at the time of year where a lot of people make New Year’s resolutions to get healthier and watch what they eat,” Manley said. “This challenge also provides accountability to your peers.”

The challenge’s first-, second- and third-place groups in each size category will be invited to receive plaques “and bragging rights” to a media/recognition event that will be held at a later date in Little Rock, Kyzer said. Last year’s challenge garnered groups of 13 different sizes, she said.

“We’ll invite all of the groups to the media event to be recognized, and it’s good because a lot of the groups will decide to do prizes for themselves,” Kyzer said. “Each team captain has a toolbox so they can download the logos and have their own promotional items.”

The Blue and You Fitness Challenge was spawned from a collaboration between the hosting agencies back in 2004, Manley said. Representatives from the agencies saw a need to encourage health at home and at the office, she said.

“The program has grown enormously, and it’s not just local participants,” Manley said. “There actually are some participants from all over the country who participate and compete against each other.”

Last year, 178 groups participated in the Blue and You Fitness Challenge, Kyzer said. She anticipates more groups will take part in this year’s event.

“We think that it’s exciting how the camaraderie in the contest format brings people together and encourages physical activity,” Kyzer said. “What we see in the survey after each challenge is, 99 percent of the people who participate want to do it again. The challenge helps them through the contest format, and it encourages them to be more active.”

Damona Fisher, a manger of brand and market support for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, agreed that the challenge makes a positive impact on communities each year.

“This is an opportunity to encourage fitness in your circle of friends and workmates,” she said. “We always encourage people to get started, and this fitness challenge is a good way to meet you where you are at now.

“Anything is better than nothing, and if you already are physically active, this challenge is a way to spur you on to even more activity,” Fisher added. “You pick exercises that are best for you and you do it, and there’s no gym membership.”

The challenge is made easy for participants because they can do the exercises when and where they wish, said Kristy Fleming, a public relations coordinator for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

“You don’t technically have to be in a gym to participate,” she said.

The challenge also boosts the self-confidence of participants, making them more prone to finding the time to exercise and eat healthier, Manley said.

“We do have jobs and family responsibilities, and there always seems to be something that can take precedence, but exercise doesn’t have to be difficult,” she said. “You don’t have to sign up for a boot camp. It can be done with activities that are feasible.

“When people receive messages and tips on how to make healthy choices and stay active, they can incorporate those into their lives,” Manley added. “Some people are trying to get active for 30 minutes a day, while others are trying to reduce body fat. There are different levels of a health journey for people, and this challenge shows that this is doable for everybody.”

Scott Smith writes for Fort Smith’s Times Record

Healthy weigh goal of new website

On Monday, at an event at North Little Rock’s Regional Innovation Hub, a rollout was held for www.healthyactive.org, a website for Healthy Active Arkansas.

The website was funded by a Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas grant, and will connect people with resources and organizations that can help make healthy eating and physical activity more accessible.

Troy Wells, Baptist Health CEO and Board Chair for Healthy Active Arkansas, encouraged those in attendance to participate with the goal being a lifelong healthy weight.