With obesity on the rise, how do we raise more health conscious kids?

How are walking and diabetes related to each other? We’ve known for a long time that physical inactivity increases the risk of many adverse health conditions, including type 2 diabetes. A threat that impacts South Africans of all ages.

This increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result of lack of exercise was confirmed in a study published in The Lancet. This study found that worldwide, physical inactivity is estimated to cause 7% of type 2 diabetes. A previous post explained that in South Africa 2.7 million cases of diabetes were diagnosed in 2014. In reverse, being more active contributes positively towards prevention of developing type 2 diabetes, and is hugely beneficial for diabetics as it helps the insulin that the body makes work better, and lowers the levels of glucose in their blood. As a result, some diabetics need less glucose lowering medication.

This exact relation between exercise and how well the bodies’ insulin works, became apparent when one of Walk & Work’s customers reported to experience this when he started working on a treadmill desk. As a diabetic he was looking for ways to incorporate more physical activity in his normal routine, and he has indicated that since starting to work on the treadmill desk, he’s been able to manage his blood glucose levels much better. A good reason for Walk & Work to contribute to awareness around diabetes, for those living with diabetes themselves, or with family members that are diabetic, and even those in a risk category.

This risk category includes the majority of South Africa, as the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa points out that a staggering 70% of South African women, and 33% of men, are overweight or obese.

Time to get into action!

Earlier this year Walk & Work offered a first time opportunity for South Africans to try out walking and working on a treadmill desk. This was hosted at two of Johannesburg’s main expos in the industry: the Facilities Management Expo and the Inspire Trade Expo. The concept of working on a treadmill desk is still very new to South Africa, even though companies in the US and Europe have embraced walking while working as it is a practical solution to bring activity into an office environment.

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As a result of working while walking productivity increases, and absenteeism drops.

Walk & Work invited visitors of the expos to walk for 5 minutes, to experience what it is like to work while you’re walking slowly. Jan Folmer, Managing Director of Walk & Work reports: “Most of the visitors were initially hesitant to idea of combining computer work with a treadmill desk, as everyone’s mind is programmed that a treadmill is for use in a gym. Once they tried it out however they noticed what a natural experience it was. Walking calmly makes you focus more on the task at hand, and your energy levels increase, your blood starts flowing and your brain works better.”

Not only did these participants get an opportunity to try out the treadmill desk, they also walked for a contribution towards the NGO Youth With Diabetes. Walk & Work donated R50 for each participant towards the work this organisation is doing, in their efforts to educate children and youth with diabetes as well as their families, on how to best manage their lifestyle. And also to offer them some fun!

Youth With Diabetes is organising camps for kids and youth, to take them out of their daily lives. The aim is to have a fun time away and support them where needed under expert guidance of the trained facilitators. These facilitators often live with diabetes themselves and can therefore share from their own experiences.

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Walk & Work’s Managing Director Jan Folmer handed the cheque with a value of R2,500 to Shiara Pillay who represented Youth With Diabetes, as a contribution to the work the organization is doing to create awareness around what is becoming an increasing challenge in South Africa. Jan Folmer: “Youth With Diabetes is creating awareness around lifestyle choices like exercise and nutrition amongst youth, which I think is key to actually turn this epidemic [diabetes] around. Type 2 diabetes is controlled by many factors that are in one’s control, and creating awareness around what people can do to improve the quality of their health is critical. It’s through organisations like Youth With Diabetes that we can make this change towards a healthier future!”.

Developing a healthy attitude towards being active from a young age helps to being more physically active in the future. News messages around using tools to enhance physical activity in classrooms in the United States are doing it’s rounds on social media. Huge successes have been achieved by Scott Ertl, who developed the Read & Ride programme.

Scott Ertl was an elementary school counselor who started an experiment in the classroom to allow kids to read a book whilst cycling on an exercise bike. The kids loved it, and from one bike he soon needed a full classroom of bikes.

Apart from the enjoyment the kids displayed, the exercise had actual learning benefits: the school compiled data and the reading test scores and proficiency went up. The experiment showed that the more time the kids spent reading while cycling, the better their results on the reading tests!

On top of that, the programme made it possible for overweight kids who struggled to participate in sports and activities (as they don’t always want to be last or lose) to exercise: on the stationary bikes the learners are able to cycle at their own pace, and slow down without anyone noticing. This provides an opportunity and confidence boost for the kids who need it most.

The Read and Ride programme has already grown to 30 other schools in the US. With benefits of this programme being so evident, and obesity and associate health effects being more prominent in South Africa than ever before, which school in South Africa is the first to follow suit?


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