Trails of Hot Springs webYou don’t have to hire a personal trainer or join an expensive gym to stay fit. Just get moving. To encourage you to get off of the couch, local hospitals often provide free fitness opportunities and sometimes even offer incentives for your participation. Among these is Get Your Tail on the Trail, the grassroots community health program offered by St. Luke’s University Health Network and the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. Started in 2013, the program encourages people to use the D&L Trail System and other trails and waterways throughout the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas.

Participants can log their activity on its website – tailonthetrail.org or on apps for Apple and Android devices. So far more than 6,000 participants have collectively walked, hiked, run, biked and paddled more than 3 million miles. Because they were once railroad beds, the trails are wide and offer a gentle grade so people of any age and fitness level can participate. Ken Szydlow, St. Luke’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, said the program is an outgrowth of the community health assessments that the Network conducts. The surveys consistently show that a large percentage of community residents are overweight and obese. Working with Bonnie Coyle, MD, St. Luke’s Chairman of Community Health and Preventive Medicine, and Elissa Garofalo, D&L Executive Director, he developed Get Your Tail on the Trail, a health and wellness initiative for the entire community.

Get Your Tail on the Trail participants can register for free as an individual or as part of an organization on the website, tailonthetrail.org, or on apps available for Apple and Android products. Then, they log the miles that they walk, run, hike, bike or paddle, or any other continuous activity they participate in for 10 minutes or more and earn points. While the program doesn’t require participants to exercise exclusively on the nearly continuous 165-mile D&L Trail, it is the centerpiece of the program. The trail stretches from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol, PA.

Participants are encouraged to meet fitness goals, such as the 165-Mile Challenge that runs each May to November. There are also special events throughout the year, including bike and hike outings, health fairs, history walks and more. Local employers and community organizations can create groups and often offer additional incentives to group members.

“Our goal is real simple: To get people outside and get them active,” notes Todd Nemura, St. Luke’s Healthy Living Program Coordinator. “We want people to be physically active because it is one of the best ways to prevent chronic disease. If fitness is complicated, people won’t do it.” Szydlow says that one of the main goals going forward is to be more rigorous with the data the program collects to measure its impact on the health of its participants. Everyone who registers for “Get Your Tail on the Trail” is asked to voluntarily fill out a healthy living survey. Then, every time one of the challenges begins – such as the 165-Mile Challenge – participants are asked to take the survey again to assess their progress.

“There’s a good deal of data that show that if you exercise 150 minutes a week, you’re going to have better health outcomes overall,” Nemura adds. “Now, we want to see the impact of this program on other healthy living measures.” Over the next couple of years, St. Luke’s expects to collect enough data so that it can measure the impact the program is having from a group perspective. Szydlow adds, “We are extremely proud of and encouraged by the response to the Get Your Tail on the Trail program. We truly are building a healthier community one mile at a time.”

For more information about the “Get Your Tail on the Trail” program, visit tailonthetrail.org or call 610-923-3548 ext. 221.

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