It isn’t easy to walk and eat at the same time. That’s why Dr. David Murdy, weight management specialist at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, believes providing awareness of Rock County’s many trails could help people shed some pounds.
The Rock County Public Health Department and Rock County Trail Coalition received a $5,000 grant from SSM Health System to create a comprehensive map of pedestrian trails in Rock County. The partners hope promoting the trails will help people get active and combat the county’s growing obesity rates.
Murdy met his wife, Karen, on a trail in Rock County 30 years go. The couple continues to use the trails to stay in shape.
The Murdys help people who struggle with being overweight and obese at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Janesville. Karen is an exercise physiologist at the hospital.
“We have a lot of parks and trails that link from park to park for walking or biking or other purposes,” David Murdy said. “I think if people would make greater use of them, they would get away from screens and get off the couch.”
Once finished, trail maps will be available online and in print form, said Dean Paynter, president of the trail coalition.
The online map will include links to existing maps on other city and town websites, giving viewers access to maps across the county on one web page, Paynter said.
The digital version will be available on websites for the trail coalition, the Rock County Tourism Council and the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Christine Rebout, the bureau’s executive director. Physical maps will be available at visitors centers, trailheads and tourism bureaus, Paynter and Rebout said.
The maps are in the design phase. Abby Diehl, health educator at the Rock County Public Health Department, estimates they will be ready in mid-August.
As of now, there is no complete map of county trails, Diehl said.
Obesity in Rock County
Rock County is the second most obese county in Wisconsin, according to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a program led by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
As of 2013, 37 percent of adults ages 20 and older in Rock County are diagnosed as obese, according to the county health rankings. The state obesity rate is 30 percent, according to the rankings.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. BMI is a measure of a person’s weight-to-height ratio.
Adults with a BMI of 26 or higher are considered overweight. When the percentages for those in Rock County who are overweight and obese are combined, the number comes in at 67 percent, according to the county health rankings.
Growing dependency on technology could be a cause for obesity concerns, said David Pluymers, assistant director of the Rock County Public Health Department.
“It’s probably something that’s going to take us a long time to change the trend,” Pluymers said. “The first thing we probably need to do is stop our progress in the wrong direction.”
Twenty-two percent of Rock County’s population is considered physically inactive by the county health rankings. That is 2 percent higher than the state average.
While nearly a quarter of the county is considered inactive, the county health rankings report 87 percent of the county has adequate access to locations for physical activity. Rock County ranks 10th in the state for access to opportunities for exercise.
The trails in Rock County help people who are not currently active to start at a rate with which they would be comfortable, David Murdy said. He recommends 30 minutes of daily activity most days to maintain weight and 45 minutes daily for weight loss.
The first step to getting active is finding time to fit it into a daily routine, he said. Once people commit to adding regular exercise into their lifestyle, then they can worry about increasing intensity.
Angie Sullivan, community education specialist for SSM Health, said having access to trails can help anyone get active, regardless of fitness level.
“It could be, for that person, trying to get off the couch and walk five minutes,” she said. “Then it can be for the elite athlete trying to get a 15-20 mile run in. It’s really for anybody that can use that and take their fitness to the next level.”
Proposals for grants from SSM Health had to address one of three areas: fall prevention for the elderly, smoking or obesity. The mapping proposal was a good fit for the available funds, Sullivan said.
Creating equal opportunities for healthy living drove the grant selection process, she said.
Obesity affects people from all income levels almost evenly in Rock County, Diehl said.
All the trails in the county are free to use, which was important to Diehl and Sullivan.
“We really wanted to hit on health equity and that obesity doesn’t really discriminate based on income level or race or ethnicity,” Diehl said. “It’s pretty widespread through Rock County, and these trail maps really provide a free resource for people to engage in physical activity at no cost.”
Maps will be available in English and Spanish. Printing them in both languages was a key factor in awarding the grant, Sullivan said.
Safety in every season
People are more active when they exercise with a partner or team, David Murdy said. He encourages friends and families—especially families with children—to hit the trails together.
Going out with another person or group also can increase safety, Sullivan said. Paynter said trail safety guidelines will be on the maps.
The trails can be a resource for fitness year-round despite Wisconsin’s harsh winters Diehl said. Cross-country ski trails—including those at Rockport Park in Janesville—are open during winter, and cross-country skis can be rented from the Janesville Parks and Recreation Department office.
The city park and recreation department and the Rock County Parks Department also offer snowshoe rentals for use on plowed trails.