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Stepping up to good health

Mariner Medical Clinic employees make the cold trek to the Mariner Mall for a daily walk last week. They are, left to right, Andrea Yrjanainen, Aaryn Ackley, Ann Berggren, Amber Weis, Kris Verbeck and Misty Scheufeli. They are among 700 St. Luke’s employees on 42 different teams stepping up for healthier hearts during February. (Maria Lockwood)

Propelled by a challenge, peer pressure and small heart-shaped devices, more than a dozen Mariner Medical Clinic employees are stepping up and out, for healthier hearts. Their path leads to the Mariner Mall each day for a power walk. Two turns around the mall nets them a mile, and walking past the designer jeans at Younkers adds incentive as they compete in the St. Luke’s Step to a Healthy Heart Challenge.

“We look forward to it every year,” said Kris Verbeck, patient account representative and member of the clinic’s “Mariner Top Dogs” team. The “Dogs” are one of 42 teams keeping track of every step they take during a 12-week period. The team with the highest step average will take home bragging rights and a cuddly red heart trophy.

“I think it’s a nice addition and it motivates a lot of the other people,” said Verbeck, of Superior. “We’re all competitive, so when there’s something like this it gets everybody more motivated.”

The challenge started with the distribution of heart-shaped pedometers. Employees began to clock their daily step totals. The American Heart Association recommends people walk about 10,000 steps per day, or five miles. But the average person takes less than 5,000.

“My average was about 2,700 before this,” said Ann Berggren of Bennett, a reimbursement specialist who spends her workday at the computer. “I come to my desk; I sit down for eight hours straight.” Now, with the addition of the mall walk and more activity at home, she’s averaging 6,000 to 7,000 steps a day.

Aaryn Ackley, patient account representative, managed to walk nearly 13,000 steps on her top day.

“But I had the flu for three days so I’ve had like 1,000 steps for the last three days,” She said last week. “So I’m way down now.”

The mall walk is more than a way to add steps.

“It’s a nice break to get over here and look at something different, clear your head,” said team leader Misty Scheufeli, an ophthalmology assistant. It also sends a message to clinic patients, many of whom walk the mall themselves.

“It’s kind of hard to critique someone on their diabetes when you’re not being healthy yourself,” said Scheufeli, who lives in Iron River.

Peer pressure prompted clinic manager Charlotte DeRosia to join the “Dogs” roster. Getting that red pedometer has made the clinic manager re-evaluate her habits on the quest for steps.

“It does make a difference,” DeRosia said. “You always try to beat the day before.” She’s found herself parking farther from the building when weather allows. Instead of stockpiling work conversations so they can all be done in one trip, she gets up every time she needs to talk with someone.

“I can take a few steps and do that,” DeRosia said.

Walking dogs, staying active with kids, caring for horses, tidying the house and taking the stairs instead of the elevator have also helped clinic staff rack up steps. The benefits are worth more than a trophy. Employees said they have more energy and an extra spring in their step. The movement, and change of scene, also relieves stress. And it impacts more than the team.

 “I think it’s good,” Scheufeli said. “We motivate ourselves, we motivate our patients, we motivate our families.”

The Step to a Healthy Heart Challenge coincides with American Heart Month in February and national Wear Red Day, which is today. About 700 St. Luke’s employees are taking part in the challenge.