Heart Challenge competitors getting healthier, one meal at a time
Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall gets up at 5:30 every morning to walk four miles on his treadmill, bikes to and from work most days and puts in another four miles walking at night.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon also rises early to perform a fitness routine that includes weight training and stretching.
The mayors and 10 other public officials are competing in the 100-day My Heart Challenge, sponsored by Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, to improve their health through exercise and better eating habits.
As they near the halfway point the contest began March 29 and runs until July 7 Wall and Corroon say they're feeling better and seeing results. Wall has dropped 17 pounds during the competition, on top of the 35 pounds he lost since the first of the year in the county's Commit to Be Fit program.
"It's going very well," he said. "This is the most excited I've been about exercise and diet."
Wall is so enthusiastic about his fitness program that he led City Council members and attendees in jumping jacks at a May 2 meeting.
The 12 competitors eight mayors, two councilmen, one city manager and one city attorney underwent baseline testing at the beginning of the contest and will be tested again at the end. They've been following personal eating and exercise plans and reporting weekly on their progress.
Winners will be determined by a point system that tallies exercise sessions and healthy meals and measures changes in health markers, such as blood pressure and body mass index. Two prizes, of $1,000 each, will be awarded for the competitor with the most points and the one who shows the most improved health. The money will go to the winner's city.
Intermountain exercise physiologist Meagan Kline said the dozen participants lost a combined total of 93 pounds and exercised 116 hours in the first month of the competition. But now they've reached the hard part.
People get excited when they start a healthy living program and are determined to exercise every day, Kline said. They generally start re-evaluating the importance of the effort, and the time it takes from family and work, at the month mark, she said.
The contestants have it tougher than the general public because of lack of time, according to Kline. Most people know when they'll get off work and can exercise, but as public officials, "they have meetings in the day and events at night," she said.
An advantage, on the other hand, is that "everyone's keeping tabs on you," Kline said. She pointed out that South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood has received encouraging comments on the Heart Challenge website.
"It's important to have people support you," Kline said. "Having their support makes a huge difference."
Internal motivation to prevent chronic disease, for improved energy or for other health reasons also is key to sticking with a healthy routine, said Kary Woodruff, a certified sports dietitian with The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, which is part of Intermountain Healthcare.
Woodruff has been counseling the contestants on the basics of nutrition and weight loss, including portion control an important element because "they're eating at meetings and all those social events," she said.
Corroon has been tracking all his meals, which can be tricky given his schedule.
"I go to a lot of events with interesting food," Corroon said, adding that an African puff pastry he sampled recently "was nowhere to be found in my calorie guidebook."
He's stuck with the program so far, but he's facing a family reunion and a few trips on county business before the competition ends.
"That might be the biggest challenge," Corroon said.
He's not giving up, though.
"I may not be the fittest, but hopefully I'll be the most improved," he said.
Wall has limited his sugar intake and given up carbonated drinks. As for his chances in the contest, he said Murray Mayor Dan Snarr will be hard to beat but he's doing his best.
Snarr also is trying to get the edge. Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore, a competitor, said Snarr is constantly encouraging him to eat chocolate, "telling me how good it is for me."
He added, "He is assisted in his deviousness by one Mayor Russ Wall."
Wall acknowledged that the group is competitive. "Whoever wins will earn it," he said, "because it's hard."
Reporter Patty Henetz contributed to this story.
A dozen city officials are participating in the My Heart Challenge, a 100-day contest sponsored by the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.
They are Bill Applegarth, Riverton mayor; Carlton Christensen, Salt Lake City councilman; Peter Corroon, Salt Lake County mayor; Kelvyn Cullimore Jr., Cottonwood Heights mayor; Craig Hall, Midvale city attorney; Scott Osborne, South Jordan mayor; Darrell Smith, Draper mayor; Dan Snarr, Murray mayor; Ben Southworth, West Jordan city councilman; Russ Wall, Taylorsville mayor; Brett Wood, Herriman city manager; and Cherie Wood, South Salt Lake mayor.
The contest will run until July 7. To follow the competition, visit myheartchallenge.com.