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Wellness challenge: Citywide health effort begins Jan. 11

The season for the New Year, New You Wellness Challenge is coming up, and organizers say healthy choices should begin now, even if the contest hasn't started yet.

"Don't think 'Oh I'm going to blow it because I'm going to start in January,'" said Marla Walter, exercise physiologist and cardiac rehabilitation and wellness coordinator at Jamestown Hospital.

The New Year New You Wellness Challenge encourages participants to make healthy lifestyle decisions like working out, drinking water and eating more fruits and vegetables. For eight weeks, participants receive points for healthy choices.

Last year, 700 people on 25 teams took part.

Now, in its third year, the teams look a little different.

In previous years, teams were organized by employer. To include seniors, students and others who aren't employed, the Challenge now includes a friends and family division.

"You're never too young to start having a healthy lifestyle," Walter said.

Also new this year is the educational aspect. Each week, participants can earn points by watching DVDs like "Stress Makes You Fat." CSi Cable and Dakota Central Communications will air the videos on local channels and residents can also check them out from the Alfred Dickey Library.

Stress impacts a person's eating habits, said Pam Schmiedeberg, New Year, New Year Coordinator and physical education teacher. In many cases, it makes a person crave sweets.

Annie Kirschenmann, president of Simple Stress Solutions, agreed.

Eating cookies, candies and hamburgers is part of the body's way of preparing for a threat like long periods of stress. The reaction is rooted in the fight-or-flight response -- the body is getting ready for combat or an escape, she said.

"The body is getting the message that it needs more high-energy, high-fat foods," Kirschenmann said.

To counter those messages, Kirschenmann recommended guided relaxation like deep breathing. A person can also make different eating choices too, she said.

"You may want to shift hands from the cookie to the carrot," she said.

Like education about stress, the Challenge seeks also to educate its participants about subjects including calorie counting and high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, said Joan Enderle, director of the Go Red for Women Initiative in North Dakota. For some, heart disease can't be avoided, Enderle said, but 80 percent of heart disease is preventable.

On the DVDs, the American Heart Association offers tips for better heart health. One of them is to eat a piece of fruit or serving of vegetables before an entrée like pizza, Enderle said. That way, a person fills up on the fruit and vegetables and doesn't have to eat as much pizza.

Lifestyle changes like eating healthy foods first are difficult, Walter said, so grab a friend and make a plan. Group support increases success rates, she said.

A healthy lifestyle is important because it's an investment in a person's health, Walter said. Long-term benefits include reducing the risks of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and premature death. It also reduces the risks of some cancers like breast and colon cancers, she said.

"We want to be cognizant at all times of being healthy," she said.

The New Year, New You Wellness Challenge begins Jan. 11.

Participants can register online at or call Jamestown Hospital at 952-4891. Registration is $7 and the deadline is Jan. 7.

Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at