Lesson from the AARP Challengers: The Best Ingredient for Fitness is…Fun

AARP launched its Healthy Living work this year with a Challenge: Walk 30 minutes a day for eight weeks.  Seem like a lot?  Maybe so—seem, that is.

In fact, for 82,000 entrants (known as “Challengers”) participating in our Fit & Fun Challenge sweepstakes, the result was 96,000 daily walks and over 125,000 weekly activities designed to motivate one another, share progress across the community, and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

More than mere metrics confirmed that the Challenge—which featured AARP’s Wellness Ambassador, Denise Austin, and her daughter, Katie, who inspired and guided us—was a major success. As evidenced by the personal stories and photos shared by the Challengers on the program’s interactive website, we empowered thousands of people from all over the country to partner with someone—including many four-legged friends—to get out and get their steps in.  They shared photos of themselves poised in yoga positions, glowing and fresh from hikes, walking with colleagues through an outdoor shopping mall, and celebrating their fitness with family and friends.  Each of them had one thing in common—a big smile on their faces.

Get Active, Get Healthy

Why is all this fun important?  It’s a matter of quality of life—and, potentially, life and death. Being active impacts such a range of issues, from mind to body. For example, with nearly 84 million Americans deemed to have prediabetes and the majority of them unaware of it, getting out to take a walk in nature or on a city street by yourself or with a friend may be the first step to reversing what is one of the major causes of death in the U.S.

The exercise and healthy body link, of course, has been known for some time. But what’s become increasingly clear more recently is how keeping your body in motion can positively impact brain health. Expert consensus compiled by the Global Council on Brain Health finds that based on randomized controlled trials, people who participate in purposeful exercise show beneficial changes in brain structure and function. Evidence shows that people who lead physically active lives have lower risk of cognitive decline.

Fun and Friends are Key

Getting fitter and staying that way can be a juggle of commitments and time—maybe more so as we age.  While we all know that eating less and moving more is a simple equation that can lead to losing weight, AARP Challengers found what studies repeatedly show: it’s easier and more fun when partners are involved to motivate one another. Building on videos we featured of Denise and Katie “fitting in” their walks through various everyday obstacles, Challengers offered tips to one another on how to work their healthy activities into daily lives.  Many shared their “victory” stories that recounted time spent with loved ones, achieving a personal best, or training for a race.

Many Challengers thanked AARP for making Fit & Fun available to them. And many, new to AARP, joined our membership ranks and immediately engaged in ongoing fitness activities—including registering for our “Your Health” member newsletter. (Members, sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the gear symbol or your name in the upper right of the www.aarp.org home page and selecting “newsletters.)

What has been the biggest smile-maker is knowing that connecting with someone in a fun way can deliver results that can lead to a healthier and happier lifetime.  You can join the Challengers and make some smiles of your own by visiting us at www.aarp.org/stayingfit.

Smiles all around!

 

Julia Alexis oversees the development and management of the AARP Public Policy Institute’s (PPI) strategic programs and operations as vice president of strategic initiatives.