Couchbound residents of wintry northern Maine are encouraged to blow the dust off their sneakers and sign up for the 14th annual Move and Improve fitness program, sponsored by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Brewer.
The free, 12-week program runs from the end of February through the end of May, spanning the most demoralizing months between the resolute start of the new year and the arrival of balmier spring weather.
This year, the Bangor Daily News will follow the 12-week program with updates and tips for success, both on the Health and Fitness website and on the Health and Fitness page every Tuesday in the newspaper.
For folks of all ages, both genders and any fitness level in the Bangor area, Move and Improve 2011 will kick off on Sunday, Feb. 27, with a lively indoor get-together featuring sessions in Zumba dance aerobics and core strength exercise as well as tips on stretching and a vigorous indoor walk. There will be an inflatable bounce house and other activities for the younger set.
The kickoff event — 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Fields4Kids indoor sports facility at 129 Farm Road, behind Beal College — is open to all, even those who are unsure about committing to the full Move and Improve program. For those who decide to sign up, registration will be available at the kickoff.
In 2010, more than 7,600 people took part in Move and Improve, according to coordinator Nicole Hammar, and 3,899 completed the full 12 weeks. Motivation varies from person to person, Hammar said, but for many the goal is simply to get over the hump of winter.
“We’re from Maine, so we all have to deal with the weather,” Hammar said. “It becomes a logistical issue for folks who might not have access to a fitness center or gym.”
Move and Improve asks participants to commit to at least 30 minutes of indoor or outdoor activity four days a week, provides a weekly roundup of tips and suggestions, and encourages participants to track their progress either on paper or with a computer.
The program does not organize or endorse any particular activity or exercise, but encourages “the use of large muscle groups over prolonged periods in activities that are rhythmic and aerobic in nature” — exercises such as indoor walking, swimming and cycling, or, for the winter-hardy, skiing, snowshoeing and skating.
The website also provides a gentle warm-up and stretching routine to use in addition to aerobic activities, as well as a medical library with information on a broad range of medical conditions.
Participating in Move and Improve is easy no matter where people live, since all materials and support tools are available online. The program is set up for fitness-minded individuals as well as groups from workplaces, schools, community centers and elsewhere. Registration for groups and individuals will stay open through Feb. 27.
So far this year, more than 100 groups have signed up, along with an undetermined number of individuals. Many group sites offer incentives to participants to stay the course. Everyone who meets his or her goal is entered into a drawing for a cash prize of up to $200.
Many studies have shown that including even a few minutes of physical activity in your daily routine offers many benefits, from weight control and improved muscle tone to decreased stress, improved concentration and greater productivity at work. Other benefits include lower cholesterol, better control of diabetes, improved sleep patterns and a longer, healthier life.