Visitors to the Diocese of Rochester’s Pastoral Center in Gates during the months of April, May and June may have noticed an abundance of people walking the campus around lunchtime.
These people were among the 69 diocesan employees who recently participated in the "Eat Well. Live Well. Challenge," which is sponsored by Wegmans, said Sue Marfione, company leader for diocesan participation in the challenge.
"It’s been wonderful to see people walking outside," said Marfione, senior accountant for the diocese.
After splitting up into seven teams, participants in this eight-week program kept track of the amount of cups of fruits and vegetables they ate each day and recorded the number of steps they took daily by wearing pedometers. Participants were encouraged to strive to eat five cups of fruits and vegetables and walk 10,000 steps, or the equivalent of about five miles, each day, Marfione said.
Rising health-care costs initially prompted diocesan officials to look into the challenge, added Barbara Pedeville, diocesan director of management and staff services. Healthy people incur less health-care costs, so the diocese wanted to promote healthy lifestyle choices among its employees.
"We need to be as proactive as we possibly can to put in place programs that might be able to help bring those (health-care) costs down," Pedeville said.
Decreased health-care costs are not the only benefits that come from making health-conscious decisions about what to eat and how much exercise to get. Physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits contribute to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention terms an "obesity epidemic." In 1990 less than 10 percent of New York residents were obese. By 1995 that number had risen to between 10 percent and 14 percent, and by 2006 between 20 percent and 24 percent of New Yorkers were categorized as obese, according to a CDC survey.
Physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits also contribute to a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers, according to the CDC. In 2002 chronic diseases accounted for five of the six leading causes of death in Americans.
The good news, according to the CDC, is that there is a simple solution to these problems: physical activity. Regular physical activity not only can help control weight, but it also contributes to healthy bones, muscles and joints and may reduce the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases.
In recent years a number of Catholic parishes have taken steps to help their parishioners live healthier lives. Several have health ministries that educate parishioners about such topics as exercise, nutrition and various diseases. Some of these ministries host guest speakers, while others offer such hands-on activities as exercise classes.
St. Patrick Parish in Victor offers both of these things, said Lori Cunliffe, youth and parish-life coordinator. The parish offers a regular yoga class, which is currently on hiatus for the summer, as well as a twice-a-week exercise class for senior citizens. Pastoral Minister Ruth Anne Dupre-Trippe is one of the coordinators of the parish’s health ministry and frequently invites such experts as nutrition counselors to hold workshops at the parish.
Another popular program at St. Patrick, Cunliffe said, is the annual Our Walk to Jerusalem, through which parishioners track the number of steps they take during Lent and make a virtual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Diocesan Pastoral Center employees may not keep track of their steps anymore, since the challenge wrapped up in mid-June, but the habits they formed during the challenge will probably remain with them, Marfione said.
"A number of people were sedentary and they made the effort to walk more," she said. "We have a lot of people who used to park close in the back of the building and now they park in the far corner to add the extra steps. It’s now become a habit."