In an effort to promote healthier living, Houston Mayor Don Tottingham will be going for a lot of walks over the next two months.

And he hopes to have lots of company.

In partnership with the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities (HSHC) initiative and using funds provided by Texas County’s HSHC grant, Tottingham will host the “Houston Mayor’s Walking Challenge” from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in May and June. The program will include group walks along sections of the Village Trail sidewalk (that’s now in place along many miles of roadway within city limits), preceded by short presentations by representatives of local health-related organizations.

“It’s open to as many people as we can get,” Tottingham said. “I hope we can get hundreds to come out. That would make the sidewalk a little crowded, but that would be a good problem.”

Signs will be posted in various locations on the Village Trail depicting colored routes and their distances, and participants will be eligible for prizes upon reaching particular cumulative milestones.

Texas County Memorial Hospital personnel will provide free screenings during three sessions, including weight, body mass and blood pressure. Screenings will be available prior to the kick-off walk this Tuesday (May 5).

“That will give people a baseline to begin with,” Tottingham said. “They’ll do it again in the middle and at the end to check progress.”

Mayor’s Walk Challenge participants need not complete a specific distance during a given session.

“This isn’t about making people look bad or good,” Tottingham said, “it’s about helping them improve their health,”

HSHC is an initiative of the Missouri Foundation for Health primarily designed to address childhood obesity.

“This will be a good opportunity for kids to get out and get some exercise,” Tottingham said. “And we really want to see whole families involved.”

Houston and Cabool are both in on the grant’s five-year duration in Texas County, and will this year benefit from about $85,000 toward increasing access to healthy food and promoting physical activity. HSHC grant money will go toward signage, prizes, flyers, strollers and more in support of the Mayor’s Walk Challenge.

“Kids are welcome,” Tottingham said.

Valerie Leonard, HSHC point person for Texas County, said “walking clubs” have operated around the state in the past and are now popping up with more frequency. An HSHC walking club program is also set for this year in Cabool.

“I think it’s beneficial to have a set time and date for people to come together and walk together,” Leonard said. “It really builds community and helps everyone get up and get moving. Sometimes people aren’t very motivated to do things like that by themselves, but when people do things together they’re more likely to follow through with doing it. It’s easier to keep yourself in check when you’re part of a walking club than if you’re trying to do it yourself.

“A walking club should help to keep more people motivated and form some bonds across the community.”

Like Tottingham, Leonard hopes to see all kinds of participants, from overweight children to entire families.

“I hope it’s not like mom walks while dad stays home with the kids, or vice-versa,” she said. “I hope it’s a family experience and a multi-generational event.”

Tottingham said an event will take place Aug. 25 where Mayor’s Walk Challenge participants will receive recognition and prizes, and that everyone involved is encouraged to continue walking even after the organized sessions end.

“We want to encourage everyone to keeping walking on the trail all summer and keep track of their mileage on the honor system,” he said.

To learn more about the Houston Mayor’s Walk Challenge, call Don Tottingham at 417-260-0548 or the city hall at 417-967-3348. All organized Walk Challenge sessions will go from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in May and June.

This isn’t about making people look bad or good, it’s about helping them improve their health.”

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