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Every year, the University of Wyoming Extension organizes a free eight-week, team-based health program, FitEx, that’s focused on physical activity and healthy eating habits. But FitEx will look quite different this year than sessions past.

Denise Smith is a University of Wyoming Extension educator who organizes FitEx, and when contacted by phone, she explained several group routines practiced in sessions past – including meeting up for nutritious meals or taking long walks around the neighborhood – that aren’t possible during the current pandemic.

As Wyomingites continue to practice social distancing to prevent community spread of COVID-19, those participating in this statewide fitness program have to find creative ways to keep each other motivated and working toward their goals.

“With COVID-19, it’s going to be a great opportunity – when you can’t maybe go walk together or meet for a meal – you can email or call each other and check the team status every day on the website to say, ‘Oh, I beat you in steps today, but you beat me in veggies!’”

By visiting www.fit-ex.org, participants can sign up now through May 1 with a team of five colleagues, friends, family members, etc. Select a team captain and name, and then set goals for how many miles your team will finish in eight weeks. Teams will also set goals for how many cups of fruits and vegetables they will eat during that eight-week period.

A FitEx mile is equal to one mile of walking or running, or any 15-minute period of moderate physical activity (an aerobics class, bike ride, dance routine, etc.). To keep track of your miles and make sure they get added toward your team’s total, sign in at fit-ex.org and log the number of miles and cups of fruits and vegetables eaten every day (or once a week). Online, teams can view the FitEx tracking charts to see their progress and how they’re doing compared to other teams across Wyoming.

“I think this group or team setting is really good because each individual is accountable to your team so you don’t go home at night and say, ‘Eh, I don’t want to exercise,’” Smith said. “The rest of your team is counting on you to be participating, and not that the prizes are that great, but it’s always fun to be in the running for something.”

UW Extension typically offers this program three times per year – in the spring, fall and winter – but this is the first time they’re utilizing platforms such as Facebook Live to support participants. Smith said in addition to a weekly newsletter and the occasional tip or trick posted on Facebook, she’s planning to host several Facebook Live sessions throughout the eight weeks that will give those in the program ideas for exercises and other fitness activities they can do at home.

The past few years, the program has featured mainly repeat participants, Smith said, but this year, UW Extension hopes to attract more people stuck at home who are in need of a way to get active.

“Competition is a good motivator,” she said. “And with people cooped up inside, whether they walk with their Fitbit or an app on their phone, or they ride their exercise bike at home, whatever form of exercise they enjoy doing can fit into this program.”

She noted that one of the biggest challenges participants should be especially mindful of right now as they’re more likely to be at home snacking is changing their daily eating habits to something more nutritious.

“All of us need to eat more fruit and vegetables,” she said. “That’s my downfall. I walk a lot, but I’d rather eat a chocolate bar than an apple!”

Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at nkottmann@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.

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