Take the first small step to a Healthier Tennessee

Published 9:15 am Thursday, February 26, 2015

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“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

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The moral of these sayings is that in order to do something big, sometimes a small start is necessary.

The Healthier Tennessee Initiative developed by the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness hopes to be the first small step for people who are wanting to lead healthier lives. The Initiative includes Small Starts Programs that are being launched in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties through the University of Tennessee extension offices.

The program is designed to help Tennesseans improve their health by being more physically active, eating nutritious food and abstaining from tobacco use, Carter County Extension Agent Vickie Clark said. The Healthier Tennessee program will be offered to businesses and faith organizations but individuals can participate as well.

“Tennessee is a beautiful place to live, but it ranks as one of the most unhealthy states in the nation,” Clark said. “The program is trying to promote a healthier lifestyle. So many times, people make resolutions at the start of the year, but a few weeks in and they have given up. We want them to continue with their goals and be successful.”

Information from Healthier Tennessee says that for the past 20 years, Tennessee has ranked among the 10 least healthy states. More than 2/3 of the population is overweight or obese, and 25 percent of Tennesseans smoke. Because of this, Tennessee residents suffer from more serious chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes; heart, lung and kidney disease and certain cancers.

Healthier Tennessee works by encouraging participants to take small steps toward a larger goal. Examples would be switching coffee or sodas for water, or taking a 10-minute walk around the community each day, Clark said.

“Little things you do can become habit,” Clark said. “Once those become habit, you move on to something else. Taking small steps toward healthier changes is what it takes to be successful. If someone tries to do everything all at once, they get overwhelmed and then they quit.”

Clark will be presenting the program to different groups through the community and will be appealing to workplaces to make it a part of their daily operations. To participate, a “wellness champion” must be designated who oversees the healthier options. The business, faith group or individual registers online at www.healthiertn.com and sets four exercise goals, four nutrition goals and two tobacco cessation goals.

Once the wellness champion believes a new step has become a habit, it is marked as completed on the website. After all the goals have been reached, the participant receives a certification as a healthier workforce or group in Tennessee.

“It is free and it is simple,” Clark said. “I would love to see all of Carter County participate. Wouldn’t it be great to be the healthiest county in Tennessee? It is really an easy program. We want to get people excited about making healthy choices.”

To register, visit www.healthiertn.com.